Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Iran told to abandon nuclear arms plan

James Bone, The Times Online:
The UN Security Council has given Tehran a month to halt its uranium enrichment programme

THE UN Security Council took its first step to curb Iran’s nuclear programme last night by calling on Tehran to halt uranium enrichment work within 30 days.

The statement, giving UN backing to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) demands, was agreed unanimously after three weeks of wrangling between Russia and the West. READ MORE

Diplomats worked to complete the deal before today’s scheduled meeting on Iran of the foreign ministers of Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the US.

The ministers, meeting in Berlin, will discuss the next steps including the possible passage of a mandatory UN resolution and the imposition of sanctions — if Tehran fails to comply within the 30-day deadline.

The talks take place only two days after police raids on 41 sites in Germany aimed at breaking up a clandestine nuclear procurement network that allegedly funnelled equipment, such as cables, pumps and transformers, to Iran through a Russian front company operating in Berlin from 2003-04.

John Bolton, the Ambassador to the UN for Washington, called the statement “the first major step in the Security Council to deal with Iran’s nearly 20-year-old clandestine nuclear weapons programme”.

It sends an unmistakable message to Iran that its efforts to deny the obvious fact of what it’s doing are not going to be sufficient,” he said.

Andrei Denisov, his Russian counterpart, conceded that Moscow had “very strong” suspicions about Iran’s intentions.

But he compared the diplomatic process to a ladder. “If you want to climb up, you must step on the first step and then climb up and not leap,” he said.

The Security Council statement last night was sponsored by the “Big Three” of the European Union — Britain, France and Germany — whose own negotiations with Iran collapsed when Tehran restarted its enrichment work in January.

The statement called on Iran to take the steps required by the IAEA’s Board of Governors, underlining “the particular importance of re-establishing full and sustained suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development”.

The Council requested a report from the Director-General of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, in 30 days “on the process of Iranian compliance”.

But at Russia’s insistence, the Western powers agreed to drop wording suggesting that Iran’s nuclear work could constitute a threat to international peace and security. A Western diplomat said that Moscow feared the language provided a “glide path” to possible military action.

Facing Iranian defiance, Western diplomats expect to be confronted with another crisis in a month when Mr El- Baradei reports on Tehran’s compliance.

In a confidential letter obtained by The Times last week, a senior British official suggested that the call by the UN for a suspension of Iran’s uranium enrichment should be made “a mandatory requirement of the Security Council, in a resolution we would aim to adopt, I say, early May”.

“The real issue is whether Iran continues to pursue nuclear weapons,” Mr Bolton said yesterday.

“We will give them 30 days to give us an answer that is negative and if they do not, we will take the next step.”