US pressures Russia before Iran talks
The United States urged a reluctant Russia and China on Tuesday to agree quickly on a sanctions plan against Tehran and its nuclear programme as officials from six world powers prepared to seek a breakthrough at talks in Paris.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said his country would consider it an act of “enmity” if France, Britain and Germany tried to block Tehran’s nuclear development and would reconsider ties with them.
US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said he did not expect a deal in Paris but called on Moscow and Beijing to move faster to reach agreement on measures to be taken against Iran over its refusal to stop enriching uranium.
“We’ve waited long enough. We’ve had hours and hours of discussions and we really do need the Russian and Chinese governments to shift into third or fourth gear ... and to work more quickly to agree with us on the basis of a resolution,” Burns told reporters in Brussels.
The six countries—permanent Security Council members the US, Britain, France, Russia and China, plus Germany—are split over a proposed assets freeze and travel ban on individuals and groups involved in Iran’s nuclear programme.
The West suspects Iran is using its civilian nuclear programme as cover to build an atomic bomb but Tehran says its work is solely aimed at generating electricity.
Russia has refused to agree to tough sanctions to punish Tehran’s refusal to meet an August 31 United Nations deadline to freeze uranium enrichment, which can produce fuel for nuclear power plants or atom bombs.
“We believe it is irresponsible to impose these kind of sanctions,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Brussels.
European Union diplomats say the sanctions called for in the text will be largely symbolic but that unanimous approval of even mild sanctions will send a strong signal to Tehran that the world is determined to stop Iran obtaining nuclear arms.
Ahmadinejad issued his warning to European powers at a Tehran rally.
“If you insist on your path against the Iranian nation’s right, the Iranian nation will count it as enmity against the Iranian nation and the Iranian nation will reconsider its relation to you,” he said in Sari, northern Iran.
It is the first time in the nuclear row that Ahmadinejad has threatened a possible downgrade in ties with European countries.
Western diplomats said they hoped it was rhetoric to please the domestic audience rather than signalling a new Iranian policy.
Moscow says Tehran’s nuclear programme is not a proven threat to world peace, but Western countries disagree, citing Iran’s 18-year concealment of enrichment technology.
Diplomats say China, which like other permanent Security Council members can veto the council’s resolutions, tends to follow Russia’s lead on the Iran nuclear issue.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said after talks with Lavrov on Monday that progress had been made on the wording of a sanctions resolution.
“I think that we can now reach an agreement on the text,” he told reporters after meeting the Russian minister on Monday on the sidelines of the OSCE meeting.
“We are in agreement with Russia to adopt sanctions against the Iranian programme of proliferation.”
Burns, however, was less optimistic.
“I wouldn’t say it’s going to be a breakthrough meeting but I do think it is an important meeting along the way. It’s high time that we passed a UN Security Council resolution on Iran,” he said of the meeting, which was due to start at 5pm GMT.—Reuters