Thursday, September 14, 2006

France Warns of Split Over Nuclear Issue

Michael Adler, Yahoo News:
Iran has called on the United States to be patient in the standoff over its nuclear activities and said negotiations should begin without preconditions and delay. But French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy warned that Iran was trying to divide the international community in order to pursue its uranium enrichment activities, referring to the process which makes nuclear reactor fuel but also atom bomb material.

"If the international community were to become divided, Iran would continue" its enrichment work, Douste-Blazy charged in an interview to appear in the French weekly Valeurs Actuelles.

Douste-Blazy called for a sustained effort to engage Tehran in dialogue and warned that otherwise there would be "a growing drive -- on either side -- towards confrontation, (and) the international community would split." READ MORE

Six world powers have proposed Iran talks on a package of benefits if it first suspends enrichment.

In Tehran, foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said: "The United States only needs to be a little patient to prove its honesty on welcoming talks under the current circumstances."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Wednesday in Dakar that he doubted the United Nations Security Council would impose sanctions over his country's nuclear program, which Western countries fear aims to build atomic weapons.

"We are supporters of dialogue and negotiation and there is no reason for sanctions," Ahmadinejad told journalists.

In Vienna, Iran's ambassador to the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency Ali Asghar Soltanieh urged the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors to use its influence to help "commence the negotiation, without any precondition and without further delay."

Soltanieh challenged the US ambassador to an "open-ended" debate on Washington's call for UN sanctions over Iran's refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.

"I am fully prepared ... (for) a debate with the US ambassador in order to prove ... that allegations are baseless and the Islamic Republic of Iran is (the) victim of neglect, discrimination and double standards," Soltanieh said.

Soltanieh's challenge echoed Ahmadinejad's call in August on US President George W. Bush to debate. US officials refused this, calling the offer a public relations gimmick.

Soltanieh said that Washington's presenting sanctions as diplomacy was equivalent to describing "unilateral military invasion in Iraq as 'multilateral diplomacy.'"

US ambassador Gregory Schulte had Wednesday told the IAEA board, which Thursday wrapped up a meeting that had begun Monday, that "Iran's refusal to suspend and its refusal to cooperate is a choice of confrontation over one of negotiation."

Schulte and European speakers urged Iran to choose negotiations over UN sanctions, but said the key to this was Tehran first suspending enrichment.

EU-Iran talks stalled Thursday, when a meeting planned between EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani was postponed. Their aides met in Geneva Thursday.

Soltanieh said there was "no problem. The only thing is both sides (need) to find the best appropriate time and venue.

"Therefore everything is on the right track."

Solana and Larijani had held talks described as "constructive" last weekend in Vienna, raising hopes this would lead to negotiations with the six world powers, Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States.

The United States, which charges that Iran is engaged in secret work to make nuclear weapons, is pushing for Security Council sanctions against Iran for failing to honor a Council resolution that set an August 31 deadline for Tehran to halt enrichment.

Larijani had offered to consider a temporary halt in uranium enrichment in talks with Solana in Vienna last Saturday, diplomats said.

But they noted that this was only an offer to consider a halt, not to implement it, and that there were conditions attached such as the UN ceasing action against Iran which made it unacceptable to the West.