Monday, January 30, 2006

UN Security Council Needed in Iran Atomic Row

Mark John, Reuters:
The European Union called on Monday for the U.N. Security Council to step into the nuclear dispute with Iran, but stopped short of calling for Tehran's formal referral to the top world body for possible sanctions.

The Islamic Republic is striving to head off any move by the International Atomic Energy Agency to report Tehran to the Security Council over its nuclear programme when the IAEA's governing board holds crisis talks in Vienna on Thursday.

"The negotiating process has reached an impasse and the involvement of the Security Council is needed to ensure that the requests -- many times repeated -- of the agency are respected," French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said in Brussels. READ MORE

Iran had put its ideas to EU officials in Brussels just hours before Washington and its European allies were to try to get Russia and China to back tough diplomatic action against it.

In London, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Iran's previous behaviour and its failure to heed a September warning from the IAEA showed that action was needed now to prevent it from building nuclear weapons.

"They need to suspend the activities that they have reengaged in and get back to negotiations," said Rice at a news conference before a dinner on Monday of foreign ministers from the permanent members of the Security Council and Germany.

"Differences on tactics and timings there may be, but I don't see anyone saying to the Iranians that they are on the right side of the issue. The Iranians need to hear that message," she said.

Douste-Blazy told a news briefing the talks with Iran in Brussels had yielded nothing new, but added that negotiations could be reopened if Tehran complied with IAEA requests.

Javad Vaeedi, deputy head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, said the meeting had been positive.

Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, also said the EU would seek to "involve" the Security Council when the IAEA meets on Thursday.


Russia and China have been reluctant to see Iran referred formally to the council, wary of opening the way for eventual U.N. sanctions that could hurt their commercial interests.

But they also share some of the West's worries about Iran, and Russia has offered to enrich Iranian uranium on its soil as a safeguard against any diversion for military use.

Iran has voiced interest in the Russian proposal, but the United States and Britain dismiss this as posturing to avoid being reported to the Security Council by the IAEA.

"When the Iranians now advance interest in the Russian proposal one has to wonder if that isn't because they now face the prospect of referral to the Security Council," said Rice.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in Brussels that he hoped the dinner in London would produce a consensus.

Russia has suggested the IAEA could ask the Security Council simply to discuss Iran and then send it back to the IAEA, but it has backed Western demands for Tehran to reinstate a moratorium on fuel research and enrichment that it abandoned on January 9.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said if Iran did not change its stance, it would end up at the Security Council.

"They have broken the seals (on uranium enrichment machinery) and they must change that," he told Reuters television.

Officials of the EU trio will draft a final version of a resolution for the IAEA board after the late-night talks in London, a diplomat for one of the EU powers said in Vienna.

The diplomat said the ideas Vaeedi presented in Brussels were the same as those advanced by Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani during recent visits to Moscow and Beijing.

"That was just not enough for us," the diplomat said.

In another bid to stave off referral, Iran let U.N. nuclear inspectors check equipment from the former military site of Lavisan at the weekend, a senior diplomat said in Vienna.

Lack of IAEA access to Lavisan had loomed large in the U.S.-EU push to have Iran reported to the Security Council over suspicions it is seeking atom bombs, not just nuclear power.

Russia said it was considering inviting China to participate in the proposed enrichment project at Iran's request.

India plans to abstain in any vote at Thursday's meeting of the 35-nation IAEA board, senior Indian officials said.

The U.S. ambassador to India, David Mulford, said last week that if India did not oppose Tehran at the IAEA, a landmark India-U.S. nuclear cooperation pact could be in trouble.

"We cannot vote with the U.S. after his comments. We're planning to abstain," said one official, asking not to be named.

(Additional reporting by Ingrid Melander in Brussels, Madeline Chambers and Sue Pleming in London and Mark Heinrich in Vienna)