Saturday, May 14, 2005

Ministers Try to Defuse Iran Nuclear Crisis

Roula Khalaf, The Financial Times:
Iranian and European officials on Friday were trying to arrange a high-level ministerial meeting in the hope of defusing the crisis provoked by Tehran's threats to restart suspended nuclear experiments.

European and Iranian officials suggested Tehran was, in principle, willing to delay the resumption of the conversion of raw uranium into gas, until Hassan Rohani, the top Iranian official responsible for the nuclear file, meets with the foreign ministers of the UK, France and Germany.

But the two sides were wrangling on Friday over the venue and the Iranians were keen to ensure that European envoys would have more than threats to deliver. A compromise venue, Dubai or Turkey for example, was being explored. “We offered a meeting and the Iranians expressed interest and are discussing the modalities,” said a British official. READ MORE

If the meeting is held it would be expected in a week's time it could provide a temporary respite in the crisis, possibly pushing the controversy back until after the June 17 Iranian presidential elections.

The nuclear dispute has been exacerbated by rivalry between factions in the Iranian regime ahead of the poll.

The high-level talks were suggested by the foreign ministers on Wednesday in a letter to Mr Rohani. The message warned that a resumption of enrichment-related activities would force the Europeans to abandon their 18-month negotiations with Tehran and back US efforts to report the nuclear controversy to the UN Security Council, where the US would lobby for sanctions.

Iranian officials say the negotiations were going nowhere in any case. They argue that there is no legal basis under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to refer Iran to the Security Council.

The three European countries have been seeking to persuade Tehran to give up its uranium enrichment programme, insisting this would be the only guarantee that Iran would not produce nuclear weapons. Tehran, however, wants to keep a limited enrichment capability and says it is willing to accept greater international scrutiny over its experiments.

The Iranian offer was rejected by the Europeans in a meeting at the end of April. A frustrated Tehran then decided to step up the pressure on the Europeans by declaring that it would resume work at one of its nuclear plants. Iranian officials underlined that they had voluntarily agreed to suspend all enrichment-related activities and had repeatedly warned that they would resume them if the negotiations fell apart. ...