Friday, August 05, 2005

EU Calls For Emergency UN Meeting on Iran

Deutsche Welle:
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faces the possibility of being brought before the UN's nuclear watchdog in his first week as Iran's president after the EU called for emergency talks on the Islamic Republic's atomic program.

European diplomats have asked for an emergency meeting of the UN atomic agency next Tuesday in order to keep pressure on Iran not to resume sensitive nuclear fuel cycle work, diplomats said Thursday. READ MORE

The news comes as Iran's new President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad faces up to tough decisions as he takes over the running of the Islamic republic on Thursday with the most pressing issue being the diplomatic stand-off with the European Union and the United States which he inherited from his predecessor.

The former Revolutionary Guard began his first day in office on Thursday but the work of his government begins after Saturday, the day he takes the oath of office and announces his cabinet.

This weekend is likely to see the new president thrust into a row which could lead to UN sanctions if Iran does not back down from its threat to restart nuclear work which the Europeans and Americans suspect might be aimed at building an atomic bomb.

On Wednesday, Iran announced that it would back off its threat to resume suspended uranium conversion activities, a move that was welcomed by the United States. Tehran had said it planned to resume the controversial fuel-cycle work this week but later signaled it would delay the start until Saturday, in effect giving more time for diplomacy.

New president but no new foreign policy

Even with Ahmadinejad at the reins, there is no guarantee that Iran will become a more diplomatic partner in the future. The new president's choices will continue to be determined by deference to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's most powerful figure.

"He has to consult with the supreme leader," said an unnamed political analyst in an interview with Reuters. "He came to power with the hardliners' backing, now he has to satisfy them."

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Hassan Rohani, who could be replaced by Ahmadinejad, told state television there would be no policy change under any new negotiating team. "Iran's nuclear policy is ... decided by top officials. It will not be changed." Local media have said former state broadcasting chief Ali Larijani, a hardliner close to the Ayatollah, would replace Rohani and take charge of the nuclear negotiations with the EU.

US encouraged by decision to delay enrichment

Nevertheless, the delay in restarting enrichment has given the US in particular cause for hope. "It certainly is a positive thing that the steps that the Iranians had previously suggested they would take have not occurred," spokesman Tom Casey told reporters.

The United States and its European allies have made clear that any move to restart fuel-cycle activities suspended under an accord struck in November could force them to seek possible UN sanctions again Iran. "If they've heeded those calls, that's a good thing," Casey told the daily State Department briefing.

The Iranian move gives Britain, France and Germany time to finalize a new package of economic and security incentives they had been working on to persuade Tehran to renounce its enrichment program.

A State Department official, who asked not to be named, said the Europeans had informed Washington they would unveil the package over the weekend, perhaps as early as Friday. He gave no other details.

EU, US still at odds over Iran deal

The United States was initially skeptical about the European initiative to negotiate with Iran but changed tack in March and agreed to back the effort. Still, speculation has persisted about potential differences in the US and European positions.

The Europeans have reportedly flirted with the idea of allowing Iran to retain some limited civilian nuclear capacity. The Americans have insisted Iran completely halt its fuel cycle work and dismantle its facilities.

But the US administration insisted it was on the same page with its trans-Atlantic allies as they prepared to make what could be a last-ditch offer to the Iranians. "It would be pretty hard for us to support a process, including the proposals in it, based on things we hadn't seen and we hadn't agreed with," said the State Department official.