Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Iran to dominate G8 foreign ministers' meeting

Michael Steen, The Washington Post:
Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight industrialized nations meet in Moscow on Thursday to decide how best to nudge Iran to give a clear answer to proposals aimed at ending the standoff over its nuclear plans. READ MORE

Iran has yet to reply to the June 6 offer of incentives from six world powers to persuade it to stop enriching uranium without oversight by international atomic energy monitors.

The West fears Iran has a secret nuclear weapons program but Tehran says the enrichment is for atomic power generation.

The European Union and United States have called for an Iranian reply in "weeks, not months" after Iran said it would not reply until late August. They indicated they would like it before a summit of G8 leaders on July 15-17.

Russia, which has signed up to the incentive package but has supported Iran's nuclear energy program, is pushing energy security as the main topic of the summit being held in the second city of St Petersburg. It is unlikely to want to see the main event overshadowed by Iran, a G8 source said.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the international community could not wait forever for a response while Iran developed its nuclear programs.

"The patience of the international community is not endless on this issue and the Iranians, of course, are continuing their activities, trying to create facts on the ground and that's also not acceptable," Rice said in an interview with CNN in Afghanistan before flying to Moscow on Wednesday.

"We need an answer. We're prepared to have the diplomacy have some time to work. We understand that it's a serious proposal and that it needs to be taken seriously by the Iranians, but we would certainly hope to hear very soon."

EU External Relations Commission Benita Ferrero-Waldner told reporters in Moscow on Wednesday that Iran's response to the incentive package would be discussed by the foreign ministers.

"Of course we will speak again about our offer," she said. "We do hope that very soon the Iranians will very soon come back with an answer ... I think it is important that the Vienna package gets a wider endorsement at the meeting tomorrow."

A meeting between EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani has been postponed until after the ministers meet, an EU diplomat in Brussels said.

The G8 source said the Moscow meeting was likely to discuss how best to persuade Iran to respond.

The European Union, the United States, Russia and China have warned Iran that the U.N. Security Council will act against it if it does not suspend uranium enrichment. But they have also set no deadline and Moscow and Beijing oppose sanctions.


The six powers -- the five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany -- had said they wanted all uranium enrichment to halt as a condition for further talks.

But in a sign of possible divisions between Western powers, German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung told Reuters Iran should be allowed to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes and under close monitoring by U.N. inspectors.

Russia and China have signaled they would tolerate small-scale enrichment while the United States and Britain have argued for long-term suspension of enrichment. It was not clear if Germany's view had been agreed among all Western powers.

Thursday's meeting in Moscow will be also be attended by the foreign ministers of Russia, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and Britain.