Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Major Powers Fail to Agree on Iran Strategy

The New York Times:
Foreign ministers of major powers failed to come up with a joint strategy for dealing with Iran after Tehran sought to influence the negotiations with a stunning last-minute diplomatic maneuver, officials said.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said a U.S.-hosted, three-hour meeting on Monday of ministers from Russia, Britain, China and Germany did not reach agreement.

``We are still considering our work,'' he told reporters after the late night session had ended.

A senior U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the meeting agreed that Iran must pay a price for not complying with U.N. resolutions but did not come to terms on what form that would take.

``I think the prospects for an agreement this week are not substantially good,'' he said. ``Clearly we had a ways to go.'' READ MORE

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told the Tass news agency: ``All of us agreed that Iran must not have nuclear weapons.'' He stressed Moscow's desire to draw Iran into ''fruitful'' negotiations on the issue.

Major power political directors will meet on Iran on Tuesday in New York and will likely meet again next week but sponsors -- aiming for unity -- have backed off a timeline for security council action, the U.S. official said.

Russia and China have been resisting a U.N. Security Council resolution sponsored by Britain and France and backed by the United States that would legally require Iran to halt uranium enrichment. Britain and France had wanted to get the resolution passed before the Monday night ministers' meeting.

The meeting of the Security Council's five veto-wielding permanent members plus Germany and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana came after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad wrote to President George W. Bush proposing ``new ways'' to resolve their differences.


But a copy obtained by Reuters showed a long rambling treatise that focused on American wrongdoings and did not contain ideas for ending the dispute over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

It was the first letter from an Iranian head of state to a U.S. president since Washington broke off relations after the 1979 Islamic revolution.

Skeptical U.S. officials dismissed the 18-page letter as a diversionary tactic. But a European diplomat who works on the Iran issue but was not authorized to speak publicly called the letter ``another tactical masterstroke that was deliberately timed to come out today (ahead of the ministers' meeting) and has made administration officials very nervous.''

Iran's letter did not prompt calls from the other powers for Washington to change its tough policy or to hold direct talks with Tehran, a senior U.S. official said.

While the immediate issue was Iran's nuclear ambitions, participants said the Monday night discussions were much broader, including terrorism and regional security.

Margaret Beckett, Britain's new foreign secretary, said ``No one has the intention of taking military action (against Iran). That was not discussed. It was not an issue.''

Washington and its allies accuse Iran of developing nuclear weapons. Tehran says it only wants to make civilian energy.

Earlier on Monday, China made clear that any reference to possible sanctions or war should be eliminated from the U.N. resolution ordering Tehran to curb its nuclear program.

Moscow and Beijing want a resolution but oppose invoking Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which is used routinely in dozens of Security Council resolutions for peacekeeping missions and other legally-binding actions.

The United States, France and Britain insist on Chapter 7. It allows for sanctions and even war, but a separate resolution would be required to invoke further steps of that nature.

Russia and China fear too much pressure on Iran would be self-defeating or precipitate an oil crisis. Both worry the United States would use a resolution under Chapter 7 to justify military action.

The United States and Iran severed diplomatic ties in 1980, after radical students stormed the U.S. embassy in Tehran and seized 52 Americans, holding them hostage for 444 days.

Iran recently accelerated its pace of uranium enrichment but remains far below levels needed to make an atomic bomb.

Iranian officials note the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, has not found a weapons program after three years of scrutiny and does not consider Iran an imminent security threat.