Thursday, September 15, 2005

Britain leads threat to impose nuclear sanctions on Iran

The Guardian UK:
Britain will lead a drive to have Iran referred to the UN security council, with the possibility of sanctions being imposed if the newly elected hardline president does not stop uranium enrichment or restart negotiations with Europe and America.

Reflecting the level of concern about Iran's intentions, foreign secretary Jack Straw was due to meet President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday on the sidelines of the United Nations summit to try to resolve the stand-off. Mr Straw was making a joint approach with French prime minister Dominique de Villepin and German foreign minister Joschka Fischer.

The Europeans have been pursuing the diplomatic route for two years in the face of scepticism from the US and Israel, but negotiations collapsed last month when Tehran restarted its uranium enrichment programme, a step towards achieving a nuclear weapon capability.

Mr Straw is keen to meet Mr Ahmadinejad, one of the regime's hardliners, to judge whether a diplomatic solution is possible. Addressing the UN general assembly, Mr Ahmadinejad said the global body was being undermined by the unilateralism of the US. As he spoke, the US delegation walked out, leaving behind only two notetakers. The US has had no diplomatic ties with Iran since Americans were taken hostage in Tehran two decades ago.

Mr Bush has been lobbying hard to find a majority on the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN atomic watchdog based in Vienna, in favour of referring Iran to the security council. The board meets on Monday.

British officials are drafting a toughly worded resolution to report Tehran to the security council unless the Iranian regime backs down and reinstates its freeze on uranium processing activities.

"It seems we're on track for the security council," a diplomat in Vienna said. "The Iranians are being given every opportunity to climb down. If they don't, it's New York." READ MORE

Another senior diplomat close to the IAEA who opposes reporting Iran to New York said: "People are running headlong into a brick wall. It's not looking good." There is no consensus on the 35-member board, but a British government official said last month that the Europeans and the US had a "modest majority", enough to force through referral.

Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, appeared to play down expectations of a referral on Monday."If we get a referral on September 19, that will be good. But I think the issue of a referral is something we will be working for a while." Mr Bush appealed to Hu Jintao, the Chinese leader, to support a referral but was rebuffed. Russia too has rejected that approach.

The Europeans want as big a majority as possible to strengthen the signal sent to the Iranians, so there could be scope for Tehran to reinstate the uranium freeze and resume negotiations.

The options, a senior diplomat said, were a "hard" resolution, sending the dispute to New York immediately, or a "deferred" one - a deadline of late October for the Iranians to reinstate the freeze or be reported to the security council.

Mr Ahmadinejad, who claims Iran is only interested in expanding its civilian nuclear programme, told Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, that "the Islamic republic never seeks weapons of mass destruction" and Iran would be happy to export civilian nuclear technology to other Islamic countries.