Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Straw: Iran Unlikely to Meet UN Demands

Andrew Hammond, Reuters:
Britain does not expect Iran to comply with U.N. demands to halt uranium enrichment by the end of April, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said on Wednesday.

Speaking in the Saudi capital Riyadh, where the government shares Western concerns about a nuclear Iran, he also said that the Middle East could be plunged into a nuclear arms race if Iran develops an atomic bomb.

The U.N. Security Council has asked the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to report by April 28 on Iran's compliance with a council demand that it stop enriching uranium and answer the agency's questions on its nuclear program.

"We are working on the basis that Iran will not meet the proposals from the Security Council on the 30-day deadline," Straw told BBC Radio Four in an interview from Saudi Arabia. READ MORE

He declined to say later to reporters what action he thought the Security Council might then take.

Last week Iran declared it had enriched uranium to a level used in power stations. The Islamic Republic says it only wants nuclear technology to produce electricity, not atom bombs as the West suspects.


Straw, who is taking part in a conference on Saudi-British ties, also said a regional arms race was at the heart of his concerns about Iran's nuclear energy program.

"Iran, which has no natural allies in the region ... is likely to provoke a nuclear arms race across the region," he told reporters during the 24-hour visit.

Israel is widely suspected of possessing nuclear weapons, and Iraq suffered over a decade of United Nations sanctions and a U.S.-led invasion in 2003 in part over concerns that it was developing nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

Straw said Saudi officials had expressed concerns during his visit about potential U.S. military action against Iran. But he added: "They regard it as pretty hypothetical and so do I."

Saudi Arabia has had uneasy relations with non-Arab Iran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution in the Shi'ite Muslim country. Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia has accused Tehran of massive political interference in Shi'ite-dominated Iraq.

Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal said he hoped he would not have to choose one day between a nuclear-empowered Iran and U.S.-instigated war against Iran.

"I hate that choice, I'd choose neither. We are hoping and not without reason that this issue can be solved with discussion," he told the Saudi-British conference.

"Iran is a great and old civilization with huge responsibilities to the stability of the region."

(Additional reporting by Madeleine Chambers in London)