Major powers try to close ranks over Iran nuke issue

VIENNA (AFP) — The five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany meet in London on Monday to try to bridge broad differences over the Iran nuclear programme, which the West fears is a covert grab for atomic weapons.
The United States and three major European powers Britain, France and Germany have been pushing for a UN Security Council meeting, which could lead to sanctions against Iran. Russia and China, both veto-wielding members of the UN Security Council with ties to Iran, have been reluctant to back immediate UN action.

The London talks will set the tone for an emergency meeting on Thursday of the UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which could send the matter to the UN.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Saturday a diplomatic solution was still possible even as his Western allies brandished the threat of UN Security Council action and possible sanctions.

“We have to have a bargain which enables both sides to come out of it with their head held high and not low,” Straw said at an economic conference in Davos, Switzerland.

“It’s hard going. It’s hard to think of another government which is harder to negotiate with,” he added. But “it’s the only way through.”

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, however, warned that Iran could face economic sanctions if it fails to come to an agreement with the international community.

“It wouldn’t be intelligent to rule out economic sanctions. Iran shouldn’t underestimate its dependence on technical and economic cooperation with the West,” Steinmeier said in an interview in the latest issue of the news weekly Der Spiegel.

Britain, Germany and France called the emergency IAEA meeting after Iran on January 10 broke international seals and resumed work on uranium enrichment, the final step in making nuclear fuel.

The IAEA has called on Iran to cease work that can lead to the creation of fuel for nuclear power reactors but also nuclear bomb material. It also is pressing Tehran to cooperate fully with a three-year-old IAEA investigation of the Iranian nuclear programme.

Straw said the London meeting would agree what resolution to put to an emergency IAEA session of the 35-member board of governors session Thursday in Vienna. Non-proliferation analyst Gary Samore said the United States wants the London meeting to send a strong message to Iran and would be pushing for a statement to warn Iran against nuclear fuel work.

“The statement will be calling on Iran to restore a suspension of nuclear fuel activities,” said Samore, a former White House adviser now at the MacArthur Foundation in Chicago.

Samore said this would be “the first time the P-5 [the permanent UN Security Council members who have veto power] is publicly together” in such a call. All the participants in the London talks are permanent members of the Council except Germany.

In intense diplomatic lobbying over the weekend, Iran urged Western powers not to refer the dispute to the Security Council immediately, arguing that talks with Russia on a potential compromise needed “more time.”

Iran is sending a senior delegation to Brussels Monday for talks with Britain, France and Germany. Straw said Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani would hold talks Monday with British officials.

Moscow proposes that the process of enriching uranium into fuel be conducted in Russia as a way of keeping Iran from acquiring bomb-making technology while guaranteeing its access to nuclear energy.

The United States and the three European powers conditionally back this approach but they still want to see Iran referred this week to the UN Security Council in order to put pressure on Tehran.

The four Western states are haggling with key Iranian trading partners Russia and China over a draft resolution for the IAEA board, according to diplomats and a copy of the draft read to AFP.

A diplomat who asked not to be identified said Russia wants it made clear that any call for UN Security Council action would come after a pause for diplomacy ahead of a regularly scheduled IAEA board meeting on March 6.

Iran is threatening reduced cooperation with the IAEA and even reduced oil exports if it is brought before the Council.

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