Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Security Council Postpones Iran Meeting

Edith Lederer, ABC News:
The U.N. Security Council postponed a meeting Tuesday on Iran's suspect nuclear program as the West searched for new ways to break a deadlock with Russia and China over the best way to pressure Tehran, diplomats said.

The decision came after senior diplomats from the five veto-wielding members of the council and Germany made little headway on bridging their differences during a 4 1/2-hour meeting Monday evening. Diplomats said Russia was the main holdout, with China following behind.

That deadlock has forced Britain, France and Germany the European troika leading negotiations on Iran to reopen the text of a statement that would be the first Security Council response. Diplomats will focus on bilateral talks to try to find an agreement, they said Tuesday.

"We'll just keep working on it," U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said.

The United States and its European allies want a statement reiterating demands by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, that Iran suspend uranium enrichment, the process that can be used to generate nuclear power or make nuclear weapons.

Diplomats said the Russians and Chinese have not budged from their opposition to tough language including a demand for a report in 14 days on Iran's compliance with the IAEA demands. Moscow and Beijing have said that is not enough time, with China suggesting 30 to 45 days.

Russia and China also want the IAEA to keep the main role in cajoling Iran on uranium enrichment. They have raised concerns that pushing Iran too hard could lead to its withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and expulsion of IAEA inspectors.

"From the beginning I proposed that if the Security Council is to support IAEA, it is to have a brief political statement and support the IAEA, call on the Iranians to cooperate and then I think put some pressure" on them, China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya said.

Monday night's high-level meeting, hosted by British Foreign Office Political Director John Sawers, occurred hours after a letter came to light detailing secret British proposals to offer Iran a new package of incentives to comply with the IAEA.

The confidential March 16 letter from Sawers to his counterparts in the United States, France and at the European Union suggested that offering the incentives might make Russia and China more willing to accept sanctions later on if Iran doesn't comply.

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

That proposal appeared to have had no immediate visible effect on the Russian and Chinese stance.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told reporters on Tuesday that he remained convinced the council could come to agreement on action, probably in the form of a nonbinding Security Council presidential statement.

"I think there is a great deal of sentiment for a presidential statement," Burns said in Washington. "I think we will see a statement not too long in the future."

The lack of any significant movement after 10 days could lead the Western nations to abandon the presidential statement, which requires the consensus of all 15 council members, in favor of a resolution, a council diplomat said on condition of anonymity because the issue had not been raised with members yet.

That would put Russia and China in the position of having to approve, abstain or veto action against Iran. READ MORE