Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Consensus Still Eludes U.N. on Iran Compliance

Warren Hoge, The New York Times:
Drafters of a Security Council statement on Iran's nuclear program decided to revise it today after a lengthy meeting of senior diplomats from six nations failed to overcome objections from China and Russia to terms being advanced by the United States and Europe.

Britain and France, co-authors of the statement, asked that the council call off a session scheduled for this afternoon so they could make changes in the text to try to attract the needed unanimous support of the panel's 15 member countries.

No new date for the council's meeting was set, but Axel Cruau, spokesman for the French mission, said it should occur "in the coming days." READ MORE

The move that the council is trying to agree on is a relatively mild one — a non-binding statement that would list Tehran's failures to comply with demands from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations nuclear watchdog, and urge Iran to resume suspension of uranium enrichment that the West believes is intended to produce weapons.

The United States had hoped to settle on a text by today's council meeting, but R. Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, said that some countries wanted to consult with their capitals before moving ahead.

Speaking to reporters on Monday evening after the four-hour meeting of foreign policy coordinators at the British mission, Mr. Burns said, "It may take a little bit of time, but it's going to be worth the time because when we do achieve that statement, it will be yet another clear, unified message by the international community."

Attending the meeting in addition to Mr. Burns were Michael Schaefer of Germany, John Sawers of Britain, Stanislas de la Boulaye of France, Sergei Kislyak of Russia and Zhang Yan, China's arms control director.

They issued a brief statement expressing "deep concern" that Iran had "failed to respond positively" to the nuclear agency's requests to suspend uranium enrichment and permit more thorough inspections of its program.

"All agreed that Iran is seeking nuclear weapons and is out of compliance with its international commitments," Mr. Burns said. "All agreed Iran is traveling down the road toward enrichment."

While far weaker than a resolution, a presidential statement requires the backing of all 15 council members, and China and Russia are withholding consent, fearful that agreement would lead swiftly to sterner action against Iran.

China, while backing Russia, has proven more conciliatory in the ongoing talks, introducing a revision, now in the draft text, which asks the director general of the nuclear agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, to submit a report simultaneously to the agency and the Security Council on whether Tehran has stopped enrichment.

The original text, co-authored by Britain and France and circulated two weeks ago, called for sending the progress report only to the council. China and Russia objected out of concern that this would diminish the role of the agency and put the matter wholly in the hands of the council, which has the power to sanction Tehran. Both Beijing and Moscow oppose sanctions.

China and Russia are also against a provision asking Mr. ElBaradei to submit his report on Iran's compliance within two weeks. China's ambassador, Wang Guangya, has recommended a four- to six-week time frame and Andrei Denisov, the Russian ambassador, has suggested making June the deadline.

Mr. Schaefer, the political director in Germany's Foreign Ministry, said it was important that the overall approach maintain a "dual track" — parallel moves that would twin demands on Tehran with the offer of an opportunity to return to negotiations if it agreed to suspend its enrichment activities.

A hint of disagreement between the Europeans and Americans emerged Monday with reports of a confidential letter from Mr. Sawers, political director of Britain's foreign office, seeking "explicit backing" from Washington for a revised offer to Tehran. The bid would link new incentives to Tehran with the threat of sanctions as a way of obtaining eventual Chinese and Russian support for strong measures.

"We are not going to bring the Russians and Chinese to accept significant sanctions over the coming months, certainly not without further efforts to bring the Iranians around," the letter, obtained by The Associated Press, said.

British officials said the letter was not discussed at the Monday meeting.