Friday, January 20, 2006

Europe Rejects Iranian Request for Nuclear Talks

The Jerusalem Post:
Europe and the United States dismissed the possibility of talks with Iran on its nuclear program, cranking up international pressure on Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment.

Until Iran halts nuclear activity, "there's not much to talk about," US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Wednesday. Iran's president, meanwhile, accused the West of acting like the "lord of the world" in denying Tehran the peaceful use of the atom.

The quick rejection of Iran's request for a ministerial-level meeting with French, British and German negotiators focused attention on the next step: the US and European push to refer Iran to the UN Security Council, which could impose economic and political sanctions.

Europe halted talks after Iran resumed uranium enrichment research earlier this month. The West fears the nuclear program will lead to nuclear weapons, though Iran insists it's only for civilian use.

"Iran must return to a complete suspension of these activities," said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Denis Simonneau. He said Iran's decision to resume the research "means that it is not possible for us to meet under satisfactory conditions to pursue these discussions."

Simonneau said that discussions are not possible either among ministers or "at the level of civil servant" as long as Iran pursues nuclear activities.

In Washington, Rice and the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, also rejected any return to talks. France, Germany and Britain led the talks with Iran on behalf of the 25-member European bloc.

Rice condemned Iran's decision to resume its nuclear program, saying that the international community is united in mistrusting Tehran and its present leadership with such technology.

Britain, too, refused to consider renewed talks.

"Iranian professions of continued interest in negotiations are ... not credible. The Iranians knew full well that resuming enrichment-related activity would trigger" a halt to talks, and did it anyway, a Foreign Office spokesman said Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with government policy.

In Vienna, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, announced Wednesday that a special meeting of its 35-nation board of governors would be held Feb. 2. The United States, France, Britain and Germany had requested the meeting to refer Iran to the Security Council.

French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said the meeting will be a "very important moment." READ MORE

Speaking in Berlin after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Villepin said European nations are seeking the "greatest possible consensus to mark clearly the limit of what we can accept."

European allies will concentrate in the coming two weeks on building support among countries with a vote on the IAEA board, another British Foreign Office official told reporters.

The official said London, Paris and Berlin are confident they have enough votes to support a referral. But diplomats say Russia and China - as well as Egypt, which also sits on the board - are reluctant.

Israel, the United States and the Europeans are trying to persuade Russia to back referring Tehran to the Security Council.

Moscow was a hub of shuttle diplomacy on the issue Wednesday, with Israel's national security adviser and French foreign minister pressing their positions in the standoff. Tehran's ambassador to Moscow urged the Kremlin to resist what he called pressure from other countries.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shrugged off attempts to refer Iran to the council. "There isn't any problem. This is their endeavor," he told reporters.

But he said the West should back down, accusing them of trying to deprive Iran from peaceful nuclear technology.

"We are asking they step down from their ivory towers and act with a little logic," he said. "Who are you to deprive us from fulfilling our goals? You think you are the lord of the world and everybody should follow you. But that idea is a wrong idea."

The United States, Britain, France and Germany have drawn up a draft IAEA resolution that would ask the Security Council to press Tehran "to extend full and prompt cooperation to the agency" in its investigation of suspect nuclear activities - though it stops short of asking the council to impose sanctions.