US, Europe push for action on Iran

Europe and the United States warned Iran over its nuclear ambitions on Monday and called on Russia and China to join in seeking United Nations action later this week, as Tehran asked for more time for a compromise.

All five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany were to meet in London later on Monday to hammer out a joint position before an emergency meeting on Thursday in Vienna of the UN nuclear watchdog.

In Brussels, top officials from Britain, France and Germany, the European Union troika that has been negotiating with Iran, met an Iranian delegation.

The Iranians were expected to offer a moratorium on industrial-scale uranium enrichment, a diplomat close to the talks said, while still insisting on research work.

Uranium enrichment is the process that makes fuel for nuclear reactors but that can also be material for atom bombs.

The diplomat said this offer did not appear to modify an Iranian attempt to do small-scale enrichment, which the US and the EU already reject as crossing a “red line” triggering referral to the UN Security Council.

Javad Vaidi, a senior Iranian nuclear negotiator, was upbeat after the talks in Brussels.

“Now we can continue opening a chance for talks. This is the best outcome,” he told reporters.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana was more cautious. “It’s good to talk, but their position has to change.
... They know how to change, they know what they have to change,” he said.

The 35-nation board of governors of the UN’s watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will on Thursday discuss an EU demand to send Tehran before the Security Council.

EU negotiations with Iran broke down this month after Tehran broke UN seals on a key nuclear facility in breach of a November 2004 agreement.

Europe and the US fear Iran is using a nuclear programme it says is peaceful to hide secret atomic weapons development.

Russia and China, veto-wielding members of the Security Council and with extensive trade ties to Iran, are reluctant to back immediate UN action.

Russia wants this week’s IAEA board session merely to send an information report on Iran and wait until an IAEA board meeting in March to decide whether to call for UN action.

A diplomat close to the IAEA said Moscow has told the West to take its time or risk a veto.

“If they try to push this through without the Russians on board, it will be dead on arrival in the Security Council and the Russians will make that clear,” a second diplomat said.

Moscow proposes that 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.

Iran says talks with Russia on a potential compromise need “more time”.

“Our position is very clear. We will not back down,” government spokesperson Gholam Hossein Elham told reporters.

“But the government can, in the framework of a declared and acceptable policy, examine the Russian proposal. We can negotiate on the manner of its application,” he said.

Iran also has allowed IAEA inspectors to visit the former Lavizan military complex in Tehran after blocking this for more than a year.

A draft IAEA resolution by Britain, France and Germany is in line with US calls for action now on Iran and makes little concessions to calls for delay.

The four-page draft calls on the IAEA to notify the Security Council that questions over Iran’s implementation of the Non-Proliferation Treaty “require action” by the UN executive.

But Mark Fitzpatrick, a non-proliferation analyst at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, said Washington is likely to give ground as it needs wide support when the IAEA meets.

The resolution will “get watered down. I think it would be better to go into the February 2 meeting with the P-5 linking arms and that will probably require a compromise on the part of the United States,” said Fitzgerald.—Sapa-AFP

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