Thursday, April 27, 2006

Germany Suggests U.S-Iran Nuclear Talks

Paul Ames,
Germany's foreign minister suggested Thursday that the United States and Iran could hold direct discussions on the Islamic republic's nuclear standoff with the West if Tehran agrees to talk to Washington about the chaos in Iraq. READ MORE

The United States, which has no diplomatic relations with Iran, said in March that it was ready to talk to Tehran about calming the unrest in Iraq. Iranian and U.S. officials have insisted the talks will deal only with Iraq, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad this week questioned even the need for those discussions.

"If there are talks with Iran anyway on the situation in Iraq, then nobody would understand if the current central issue in world politics would not come up," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, told reporters on the sidelines of a NATO meeting.

Steinmeier has suggested direct talks before, but the U.S. has not favored taking up the nuclear issue directly with Tehran, preferring to work through the United Nations.

European negotiations with Iran, led by Germany, France and Britain, have failed to persuade Iran to stop enriching uranium — which can be used to fuel peaceful reactors or make bombs — and meet other international demands.

The Iran question was not on the official agenda of the NATO foreign ministers' meeting, but, on the eve of a U.N. deadline for Tehran to halt enrichment, it was to be discussed at an informal dinner bringing together NATO and European Union nations.

"We have to do everything we can to stop the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," said NATO Secretary General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said before the meeting.

The United States, France and Britain say if Iran does not meet Friday's U.N. Security Council deadline, they will seek to make the demand to halt enrichment compulsory — despite opposition from Russia and China, the other two veto-wielding council members. The three Western nations also have warned that noncompliance could lead to sanctions, but other allies are wary.

Steinmeier said he still hoped for a negotiated solution, but insisted Iran "must dissolve the suspicion that it uses its civil nuclear program for the development of weapons."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is due to join the NATO talks Friday, ahead of a scheduled presentation to the Security Council by Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, on Iran's compliance with its demands.

The opening session of the NATO meeting Thursday focused on bids by Ukraine, Georgia, Albania, Croatia and Macedonia to join the alliance. De Hoop Scheffer has said a final decision was unlikely before 2008.

Further expansion of the Western alliance in the former Soviet bloc would face opposition, which has complained that the entry of Ukraine and Georgia would be "highly painful" for Moscow, and could call international arms agreements into question and provoke a reorganization of Russia's armed forces.

Several thousand Bulgarians, meanwhile, joined an ultranationalist demonstration close to the NATO meeting against an agreement Rice is due to sign Friday with Bulgaria. It grants U.S. troops access to use military facilities in the country. The deal is part of a strategy of shifting troops to based in Europe farther east and will deploy up to 2,500 U.S. troops to Bulgaria.

Thursday's meeting also discussed proposals for NATO to develop closer ties with other democracies including Australia, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea to coordinate political positions and peacekeeping operations.

On Friday, Rice is expected to push NATO allies for more robust support for African peacekeepers struggling to end political and ethnic strife in Sudan's Darfur region. Ministers will also discuss the expanding NATO mission in Afghanistan, which is moving into the country's volatile southern region in the face of mounting attacks blamed on remnants of the ousted Taliban regime.