Tuesday, June 13, 2006

China, Russia Refuse to Join Iran Sanctions Statement

Michael Adler, Yahoo News:
China and Russia have refused to join with other big powers in threatening sanctions over Iran's nuclear program during diplomatic jostling at the UN nuclear watchdog. READ MORE

In a further blow to US efforts to present a united front at the International Atomic Energy Agency talks, non-aligned nations prepared a statement reaffirming Tehran's right to enrich uranium.

Diplomats played down the significance of the cracks, however, saying saying IAEA members would try not to hinder an international offer to Iran of benefits if it reins in its nuclear ambitions.

"Everybody feels they want this package (of benefits) to have every possible chance of success," a Western diplomat told AFP Tuesday.

China and Russia -- both Iranian allies and trading partners -- had joined Britain, France, Germany and the United States on June 1 in urging Iran to halt enrichment and join talks guaranteeing it will not make nuclear arms.

The offer threatened UN Security Council action, including sanctions, if Iran failed to comply.

A second Western diplomat said the United States had been seeking a new statement in Vienna from the six world powers setting out both possible benefits and sanctions for Iran.

But Russia and China were reluctant to sign up.

Russia and China "didn't want a reference to sanctions or punitive actions," the diplomat said.

A senior European diplomat said the failure to agree on a joint statement at the IAEA board was no surprise.

The six world powers had never managed to get a united statement on the matter at the IAEA, which oversees cooperation by nations with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the European diplomat said.

A vigorous debate on Iran but no resolution is expected at this week's meeting in Vienna of the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors, with the Iranian issue due to come up officially Thursday or Friday.

The EU-3, which have spearheaded negotiations with Iran, are expected to issue a joint statement of their own. Each of the six powers engaged with the Iran nuclear crisis will also issue individual statements.

Iran is examining the major powers' offer of benefits and is expected to respond by the end of the month.

Iranian MP Kazem Jalali said in Tehran Tuesday that Iran will not suspend uranium enrichment -- a key precondition set by the major powers for talks -- and is only willing to negotiate on the modalities of the sensitive work, which makes nuclear reactor fuel but also atom bomb material.

A Western diplomat said the IAEA meeting had "no influence on the overall situation," although this diplomat and others admitted that Iran would try to exploit any division, perceived or real, among the world powers.

Delegates from several non-aligned nations, of which China is a member, were nevertheless preparing a statement that supported Iran's right to enrichment, as enshrined in the NPT, diplomats said.

A non-aligned diplomat said his group would "hold to a statement made by non-aligned foreign ministers in Kuala Lumpur in May," that backs Iran's right to enrich.

Diplomats said Washington was fighting to prevent non-aligned states on the IAEA board from issuing such a statement as the United States wants to keep up pressure on Iran.

But many non-aligned states aspire to nuclear technology and are as much concerned about protecting their right to enrich uranium as Iran's, diplomats said.

The non-aligned nations, as well as countries like Brazil, Australia and Canada, are opposed to a US-led proposal before the board to have nuclear fuel available in a multilateral reserve so that countries do not develop the ability to enrich uranium on their own, diplomats said.

The non-aligned diplomat said the bloc was planning a statement that would renew a message first issued May 30 in Malaysia, when the the Non Aligned Movement affirmed the right to atomic energy and opposed any attack on nuclear facilities.

The United States wanted the bloc, which numbers some 16 mostly developing nations on the IAEA board, to stick to a February IAEA resolution calling on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment.