Friday, September 16, 2005

Britain Attempts to Save Nuclear Talks

James Bone and David Charter, The Times:
Jack Straw met Iran’s new hardline President for the first time last night in an attempt to rescue international efforts to persuade Tehran to abandon its nuclear ambitions. The Foreign Secretary and his German and French counterparts held 25 minutes of talks with President Ahmadinejad at the UN summit in New York before the high-stakes session of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board on Monday.

The surprise meeting came a day after Mr Ahmadinejad delivered what British officials considered a “confrontational” speech to the UN and gave warning that Iran was ready to share its nuclear capability with other Muslim states.

The President, who was elected in June, plans to present new proposals in another UN speech tomorrow.

Speculation was growing last night that the Iranian leader planned to propose joint ventures in uranium enrichment with Europe, Russia, China and South Africa to allow a degree of international oversight. European officials said that while such a plan might form part of a long-term approach, it did not resolve the immediate question of Iran breaking its pledge to halt enrichment activity.

A British spokesman said that Iran showed little movement in a meeting yesterday between its chief negotiator, Ali Larijani, and the European foreign ministers. READ MORE

“What we are going to do is to listen carefully to what the President has to say on Saturday afternoon and we’ll take it from there,” Mr Straw said.

Philippe Douste-Blazy, the French Foreign Minister, said: “What happens at the IAEA is directly linked to what Mr Ahmadinejad says on Saturday.”

Mr Straw flew to New York a day early so that the European trio could meet Mr Ahmadinejad before Joschka Fischer, the German Foreign Minister, went home. The unusual meeting stemmed from an idea suggested by Mr Straw at a lunch last week with Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, at Le Gavroche restaurant in London.

Mr Annan telephoned Mr Straw at home on Saturday night to say that the meeting with Mr Ahmadinejad was on. It was chaired last night by Mr Annan himself. Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, was also present.

European and American plans to call on the IAEA board on Monday to refer Iran to the UN Security Council, where it could face sanctions, seemed to be faltering as support fell away on the 35-member board. Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, suggested that Iran might not be referred to the Security Council on Monday and said the main problem was lack of support from non- European countries.

The flurry of diplomatic activity on Iran overshadowed Mr Blair’s emphasis at the summit on trade and development.

Before returning to London, Mr Blair vowed to do everything he could to ensure that World Trade Organisation talks in December did not kill off the progress made at the G8 in Gleneagles on aid, trade and debt relief.

The Prime Minister said that it was time to “call each other’s bluff” on trade. British officials denied that Mr Blair was mounting a personal attack on President Bush, who promised on Wednesday to eliminate trade barriers as long other countries did so. They insisted that other nations, including France and Germany, had made similar promises over the Common Agricultural Policy.

But Mr Blair’s remarks came shortly after his close ally Peter Mandelson, the EU Trade Commissioner, made his own overt dig at Mr Bush.

Mr Mandelson said: “Some will say that he is making these sort of lavish promises in the almost certain knowledge that the rest of the world cannot or will not follow suit and therefore he will get a free pass.”

Bob Geldof, speaking with Mr Blair, gave the UN summit “four out of ten” — following his “ten” for progress on aid at Gleneagles.