Thursday, March 16, 2006

US upbeat on Iran talks

Evelyn Leopold and Irwin Arieff, Reuters:
U.N. Security Council envoys reported progress for the first time on Thursday in tackling Iran's nuclear ambitions but the United States acknowledged that differences remained.

China appeared to be more flexible on a draft council statement but Russia was said to hang tough on how much the Security Council should be involved in Tehran's nuclear program, which the West believes is a cover for bomb making, two envoys close to the talks said.

Still, U.N. Ambassador John Bolton told reporters, "I would describe today's meeting as the best we have had so far. There are still areas of disagreement ... but I am very encouraged." READ MORE

Others agreed. "We are much closer today than we were yesterday," said Tanzania's U.N. Ambassador Augustine Mahiga.

Qatar's ambassador, Abdulaziz al-Nasser, said ambassadors had suggested changes, some of which he expected to be incorporated into the text on Friday when council members meet again. No action is expected until next week at the earliest.

The British and French ambassadors, Emyr Jones Parry and Jean-March de la Sabliere, who drafted the statement, both called the talks "productive."

The statement requests a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, perhaps within two weeks. Moscow would prefer it be given to the 35-nation IAEA board rather than to the Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions.

The statement would also express "serious concern" about Iran's nuclear program and ask it to comply with demands from the IAEA . But it does not threaten any punitive measures.


Top foreign policy officials from the five veto-holding permanent Security Council members, as well as Germany, which is involved in negotiations on Iran, plan a session in New York on Monday to work out a strategy on the crisis.

U.N. envoys said participants would include Nicholas Burns, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs.

Other participants include foreign ministry political directors John Sawers of Britain, Michael Schaefer of Germany, Stanislas de la Boulaye of France and Sergei Kislyak, Russia's deputy foreign minister.

China's envoy was not immediately known.

In Washington, Burns said there would be "some important discussions" among the six nations and others "on how we move forward" on the statement.

But Bolton said he also expected the group to concentrate on long-term strategy, beyond the statement.

"It is for political directors to discuss broader aspects of this, what comes after this presidential statement," Bolton said. "We're hoping to resolve negotiations on the text here in the United Nations in the normal course of things."

Bolton said Thursday's meeting also gave the West a chance to refute claims from Tehran.

"Many of the members of the council said the Iranian government has lobbied the members extensively, put out a lot of disinformation about what they are up to." he said. "We had a chance to correct some of that disinformation."

France hosted its second session on Thursday among all 15 Security Council members, who first received a draft text of the statement on Tuesday. On Friday the 15 members will move the talks to U.N. headquarters.

A council statement needs to be approved by all 15 members, while a resolution requires nine votes in favor and no veto from any of the permanent members. If the impasse continues, the West could try to force Russia and China into the uncomfortable position of having to consider a resolution.