Sunday, March 19, 2006

Top U.N. Members To Try to Break Stalemate on Iran

Colum Lynch, The Washington Post:
The Security Council's five permanent members and Germany will hold a high-level meeting Monday in New York to try to break an impasse over the international response to the Iranian nuclear crisis.

The meeting comes as U.S. and European diplomats have failed during two weeks of negotiations to overcome Chinese and Russian objections to a Security Council statement demanding that Iran stop its nuclear-enrichment activities and cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency. R. Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, and top foreign affairs officials from the five other governments are expected to attend.

U.S. and European officials say they will try to assuage Russian and Chinese fears that the adoption of the statement will inevitably lead to harsh punitive measures against Iran. "We're not hellbent on going to war; we're not hellbent on imposing sanctions," said a senior State Department official familiar with the discussions, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks are supposed to be confidential. "We're hellbent on having the Iranians return to the negotiations, like the Russians and the Chinese want."

Moscow's opposition to a Security Council declaration has hardened in recent weeks as senior U.S. officials, including Burns, have publicly threatened to press for targeted sanctions against Iran's rulers if they ignore the 15-nation council's call for a freeze on Iran's uranium-enrichment activities.

Russian diplomats say they are concerned that a U.S.-backed European draft, which sets a two-week deadline for Tehran to stop enrichment activities and agree to more intrusive U.N. inspections, provides too little time to test Iran's cooperation. Russia's U.N. ambassador, Andrei Denisov, mockingly told the Associated Press on Friday: "Let's just imagine that we adopt it and today we issued that statement -- then what happens after two weeks? In such a pace, we'll start bombing in June."

Monday's meeting, which will be held at the British mission, was scheduled in response to a request by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to hold talks outside the Security Council to map out the United Nations' long-term strategy for persuading Iran to scale back its nuclear activities.

An evening meeting, which will include the U.N. ambassadors for the six governments, will focus on reaching a deal on the presidential statement.

A second senior Bush administration official, who also spoke on the condition of anonymity, denied an AP report Saturday suggesting that Britain was considering proposing Monday to resolve the standoff through talks among the council's five veto-wielding members, Germany and Iran. "The report is absolutely false," the U.S. official said. "We checked with the Brits, and they were stupefied by that report, and they never heard of it. No one has made that proposal, and we wouldn't accept it." READ MORE

The standoff hinges on whether the Iran crisis should be handled by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency or the Security Council, which can impose sanctions or use force. Russia and China have insisted that the IAEA take the lead, while the United States, France and Britain say that Iran will stop its activities only if faced with the threat of sanctions.

Some council members say the European proposal for a two-week deadline for IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei to report to the council on Iran's cooperation is too short. China prefers four to six weeks. Russia opposes any report until the IAEA meets in June.

China said Friday that it would accept a continuing role for the U.N. council in managing the nuclear crisis. U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya said he had offered a compromise to bridge the gap between Russia and the council's three major Western powers. Under the plan, ElBaradei would report on Iran to the 35-member IAEA board and the Security Council.

U.S., French and British diplomats say they have rallied a majority of the council's 15 members in support of a draft statement that would call on Iran to stop uranium-enrichment activities and cooperate with the IAEA. They will resume talks on Tuesday.