Monday, March 20, 2006

Top Foreign Affairs Envoys Try to Break Iran Impasse

Evelyn Leopold, Reuters:
Senior foreign affairs officials from the five veto-holding U.N. Security Council powers and Germany meet on Monday in an effort to break the impasse over reining in Iran's nuclear ambitions. The session, designed to discuss future strategy on Iran, comes as the Council has been unable for nearly two weeks to issue a statement telling Iran to stop uranium-enrichment efforts the West believes are a cover for bomb making.

The draft statement also insists Iran cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna.

"I think that meeting will basically consider the longer range issues, although obviously in the capitals in Moscow and Beijing, certainly, they will now have a look at the text," U.S. Ambassador John Bolton told reporters on Friday. READ MORE

While a majority of the 15-nation Security Council is said to back the United States, Britain and France, permanent council members Russia and China distrust any language they feel will lead to sanctions. The draft statement does not threaten punitive measures.

Both Russia and China have objected to a section of the draft setting a two-week deadline for the IAEA to report whether Tehran has stopped enrichment activities, saying it is too short. But France's U.N. ambassador, Jean-Marc de la Sabliere, made clear it could be lengthened if the statement were adopted this week.

China's U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya, suggested four or six weeks and Russia indicated June, when the 35-nation IAEA governing board meets again, would be a better date.


Wang also said he offered a compromise that Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the IAEA, would submit a progress report on Iran to the Security Council and the IAEA at the same time. This provision is included in a revised text distributed by the Western powers on Friday.

Moscow is still wary of involvement by the Security Council, which can impose sanctions, fearing threats might escalate and prompt Iran to cut all contact with the IAEA. Russia's U.N. ambassador, Andrei Denisov, told reporters the IAEA should "pilot the process" and the Security Council should be "informed."

Under a November 2004 agreement with Britain, France and Germany, negotiators for the European Union, Iran agreed to freeze any uranium conversion, enrichment and reprocessing activities in return for economic and political rewards.

Before any incentives materialised, Iran restarted uranium conversion in August. In February, Tehran began tests on enriching uranium. The IAEA board agreed to report the issue to the Security Council, which received the dossier on March 8.

British officials denied during the weekend reports that Britain wanted to involve the United States in new talks with Iran over its nuclear program.

Britain's U.N. ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry, said on Friday, "Iran must do what it is called on to do and that would open the way to negotiations."

At Monday's session at Britain's U.N. mission will be Nicholas Burns, the U.S. undersecretary of state, and foreign ministry political directors John Sawers of Britain, Michael Schaefer of Germany and Stanislas de la Boulaye of France.

Russia is sending its deputy foreign minister, Sergei Kislyak, and China will be represented by Zhang Yan, its arms control director.

The full 15-member council meets again on Tuesday.