Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Iran: EU To Break Off Talks

Parisa Hafezi, Reuters:
Prime Minister Tony Blair called on Wednesday for the U.N. Security Council to consider action against Iran after it resumed nuclear fuel research, but Iran's hardline president said his country would pursue its course regardless. Iran removed U.N. seals at uranium enrichment research facilities on Tuesday and announced it would resume "research and development" on producing uranium fuel, prompting angry reactions from Washington, the European Union and Russia. Blair told parliament he aimed to secure international agreement to haul Iran before the Security Council, which can impose punitive measures.

"Then .. we have to decide what measures to take and we obviously don't rule out any measures at all," he added. READ MORE

Blair made no direct reference to military force, but his remarks seemed stronger than those of Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who said on Tuesday military action was not on Britain's agenda and that he believed it was not on anyone else's.

Iran says its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful. The U.N. nuclear watchdog has found no firm proof to the contrary.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shrugged off the world outcry over Tehran's resumption of nuclear fuel activities.

"The Iranian nation will continue its way decisively and wisely to obtain and use nuclear technology for civilian ends and has no fear at all of the fuss created by the big powers," he said in a speech in the southern city of Bandar Abbas.

Former President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, who still holds an influential position, said any sanctions would be futile.

"We will stand by our right to nuclear technology. They will regret creating any problems for us," he said in a sermon to mark the Muslim Eid al-Adha festival, adding that diplomacy, not confrontation, remained the best way forward.


However, three top European Union powers were expected to call off moribund nuclear talks with Iran and to advocate sending the dispute to the Security Council when they meet in Berlin on Thursday, a diplomat from one of the EU trio said.

The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain, along with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, were due to meet at 3:30 p.m. (2:30 p.m. British time) to discuss the crisis caused by Iran's move to reactivate a nuclear fuel programme mothballed under a November 2004 deal with the European negotiators.

"Everybody agrees the point of no return has been reached," the EU3 diplomat said, referring to what he said was an informal consensus reached among the bloc's 25 member states.

European diplomats say they now expect the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors to convene in early February to discuss referring Iran to the Security Council.

They say a clear simple majority on the IAEA's 35-nation board favours such a move, but add that EU and U.S. officials will work to achieve as much consensus as possible.

Russia and China, which have major energy interests in Iran, have previously opposed moving the dispute to the Security Council, where they both wield veto powers.

However, Iran's latest action appears to have disconcerted Moscow. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov discussed the row with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice by telephone.

"Both sides...expressed deep disappointment about Tehran's decision to abandon the moratorium," a Russian foreign ministry statement said.

The Security Council's five permanent members, including China, recently sent letters to Iran urging it not to restart its nuclear fuel activities.

Iran's action rattled oil markets on Tuesday, helping push up the price of crude for a while.

Any embargo on Iranian oil exports would be a double-edged sword -- Iran is the world's fourth biggest crude oil exporter.

The United States already has a full embargo against Iran, but the EU could introduce trade restrictions.

The Security Council could impose sanctions ranging from travel curbs on government officials to a full trade embargo such as those previously imposed on Libya and Iraq.

The United States said the international community needed to press Iran to act responsibly with its nuclear ambitions.

"The thinking there is to create the pressures, environment, the incentives to be a responsible member of the community," U.S. Treasury Secretary John Snow told BBC radio.

Italy, which has enjoyed strong diplomatic and trade ties s with Iran, said it was deeply concerned by Tehran's action.

Foreign Minister Gianfranco Fini said Tehran appeared to want to challenge the outside world over its nuclear goals, but said it could not split the international community.

"We are entering a new phase in relations with Tehran, and the international community will find the most efficient way to tackle this. I hope that good sense prevails in Iran," he said.

(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau in Berlin, Madeline Chambers in London, Oliver Bullough in Moscow and Crispian Balmer in Rome)