Iran sets off diplomatic scramble

Amid intense diplomacy, Britain, France and Germany circulated a draft resolution on Tuesday, ahead of a key meeting of the United Nations atomic watchdog, urging Iran to stop nuclear fuel work that has raised concerns of a possible weapons programme.

But diplomats said the tactic is running into opposition from non-aligned and other states that warned that cracking down on Iran could isolate it, as with North Korea.

They said the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), due to meet at 3pm GMT, is backing away from referring Iran to the UN Security Council, which could impose sanctions.

It follows Iran resuming nuclear fuel-cycle work that it had suspended in line with a deal with European Union negotiators Britain, France and Germany.

The United States, which claims the work is a front for developing nuclear weapons—a charge Tehran strongly denies—and the so-called EU-3 appeared to be having problems on Tuesday winning a consensus for a resolution condemning Iran, despite French Minister of Foreign Affairs Philippe Douste-Blazy having called the situation a “grave crisis”.

He said French officials had received a letter from Tehran rejecting a package of EU incentives offered in exchange for Iran continuing to suspend nuclear work.

Iran says it has the right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, a position supported by IAEA board members, such as Brazil, which have their own nuclear programmes.

Iranian Defence Minister Ali Skamkhani said Tehran will “resist” mounting international pressure and is unworried about threats of UN Security Council intervention.

A diplomat from one of the EU-3 states said they are circulating a draft resolution “that calls on the Iranians to stop activities in Isfahan”, where the Iranians resumed uranium-conversion work suspended last November.

The resolution does not mention the harsher measure of taking Iran before the Security Council, said the diplomat, who asked not to be named.

“At this stage, options should be kept open,” the diplomat added, saying the Iranians have only started on the first stage of conversion, itself a first step in enriching uranium into what can be fuel for nuclear power reactors but also the explosive core of atom bombs.

“We want to get a unified response from the board of governors,” the diplomat said.

The EU must win support for a resolution condemning Iran from board members Russia—which is building Iran’s first nuclear power plant—and China, a big client for Iranian oil.

A diplomat close to the IAEA said China, Russia and South Africa are working on a proposal that would allow Iran to do conversion work, with the uranium gas made from this process given to another country to distil into enriched uranium.

The Iranians seem to have won a political victory by ending the suspension and limiting the diplomatic reaction, diplomats said.

“The idea was to stop the Iranians from doing something but they’ve already done it and so the board is stymied,” a Western diplomat said.

The diplomat described Tuesday’s IAEA board meeting as “the beginning of a process” rather than the international community’s definitive response to the Iranians, who have been under investigation for almost two years for failing to declare sensitive nuclear activities.

The board, whose meeting was delayed from the morning to the mid-afternoon in order to allow time for closed-door negotiations, had been expected to meet for one day but will now continue at least until Wednesday, diplomats said.

“While the Europeans would like to get a resolution, some don’t think they will. The best they will get will be a simple statement from the chairman of the board,” a Western diplomat said.

“The threat [of referral] is being held for a second meeting,” a diplomat close to the IAEA said on Monday.

But another said the EU-3, the United States, Canada and Australia are discussing among themselves imposing economic measures against Iran, beyond a US embargo already in place, if the IAEA board fails to act.—Sapa-AFP

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