Thursday, January 19, 2006

China Steps Up Calls for Restraint on Iran Issue

Guy Dinmore in Washington, The Financial Times:
China reiterated its calls for restraint on Thursday in the growing crisis over Iran’s nuclear programme and urged all parties to use diplomatic negotiations to find a peaceful solution.

The Chinese foreign ministry said that before making any decisions, it was waiting to see a draft resolution that seeks to bring Iran before the UN Security Council for possible sanctions. READ MORE

Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, Iran’s president, arrived in Syria on Thursday on his first bilateral foreign trip, cementing ties with the other Middle Easter state facing intense western pressure.

US efforts to discipline Iran over its nuclear programme before the United Nations Security Council appeared less certain Wednesday night as European diplomats considered a new proposal from Russia which wants more time to pursue its own negotiations with the Islamic republic.

Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, said the Europeans were not enthusiastic about the Russian proposal but would consider it. Discussions with Moscow are expected to continue on Thursday, he told reporters in Washington.

The EU has cancelled its own scheduled appointment with Iran’s nuclear delegation, despite Iran’s willingness to meet, but still supports separate talks between Moscow and Tehran, Mr Solana said. Those bilateral talks, expected to resume next month, are focused on supplying Iranian reactors with uranium enriched in Russia, not in Iran.

Russia has proposed holding a UN Security Council debate on Iran, but wants to hold off on a formal decision to refer the case from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to the UN until March, Mr Solana said.

The difference between a debate and referral was significant, he said. Referral had “more guts. The US and EU shared “a pretty common approach”, he said.

The EU3 of France, Germany and the UK, which had been leading negotiations with Iran for more than two years, yesterday circulated a draft resolution to put before an extraordinary board meeting of the IAEA expected on February 2.

Driven by Iran’s decision to end its voluntary freeze, remove IAEA seals and resume nuclear fuel research, the EU3 and the US are looking first for censure of Iran at the Security Council and possibly sanctions later.

Meeting the EU3 and the US in London on Monday, both Russia and China expressed their misgivings. US and European officials remain confident they have the majority needed on the IAEA board to get their way, but the referral would lose weight if significant governments voted against or abstained.

Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, Iran’s president, said the draft IAEA resolution was politically motivated.

Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, on Wednesday said Iran must not be allowed to get a nuclear weapon. Iran insists its programme is civilian.