The European Union (EU) is risking widening the rift with the US by insisting that diplomacy is the only possible approach to Iran's nuclear issue.
In a statement that challenges the stand of US President George W. Bush who has said he has not ruled out military action against Iran, EU security chief Javier Solana said on Monday that pursuing a diplomatic resolution to Iran's nuclear issue is "the only one that is possible."
While the 25-member EU -- pushed by Germany, France and Britain-- has conducted a series of negotiations with Tehran to persuade it to renounce its nuclear weapons ambitions, the US has remained largely on the sidelines.
On January 12, the EU resumed talks with Iran on a trade and cooperation agreement after Tehran agreed to freeze uranium enrichment, a process that can be useful in bomb-making.
The US, however, has insisted that Iran must be brought before the United Nations Security Council to face economic sanctions unless suspicions over its nuclear ambitions are proved to be unfounded.
Three days ahead of his inauguration ceremony for a second term, Bush said he would not rule out military action against Iran and Vice President Dick Cheney has stated that he ranks Iran at the top of a list of global trouble spots.
With a rift over Iran looming between the EU and the US, NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer last Friday stepped into the debate to urge the two to agree a common line on Iran ahead of a summit next month aimed at relaunching transatlantic ties.
"It is of the utmost importance that the EU and the US see eye to eye over Iran," de Hoop Scheffer told reporters in Brussels.
The NATO chief said it would be a tactical mistake for Europe to be seen only to be offering Tehran inducements such as trade deals in return for giving up certain nuclear technology while the US wields only threats.
The German Die Welt newspaper recently quoted a high-ranking diplomat as saying that a military option against Iran is not possible, mainly because of the Iraq war and its aftermath.
(Xinhua News Agency January 27, 2005)