Thursday, September 22, 2005

Russia, EU in Deadlock Over Iran Atomic Ambitions

Louis Charbonneau and Francois Murphy, Reuters:
Russia and the European Union's three main powers were deadlocked at the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Thursday, unable to agree on how to deal with an Iranian atomic program that the West fears is aimed at making weapons.

Bowing to Russian and Chinese pressure, France, Britain and Germany have dropped a demand from a draft nuclear resolution that the U.N. nuclear watchdog report Iran to the U.N. Security Council over fears it wants atom bombs, EU diplomats said.

Rather than sending the case immediately to the Council, the new draft declares Iran has been in "non-compliance" with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which requires the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) at some point to notify the Council, which can impose economic sanctions.

Russia rejected this second version, saying Moscow refused to allow the issue to go before the Security Council at all.

"The Russians don't like it. They say it's a move in the right direction but not far enough," a European Union diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity on the sidelines of a week-long IAEA board meeting.

Russia's statement to the IAEA board made this clear: "We are decisively opposed to an artificial exacerbation of the situation, including the transfer of this question to the U. N. Security Council."

Diplomats said the Russians would willing to accept the revised draft if it removed any language that would oblige the 35-member IAEA board to report Iran to the Security Council.

But one EU diplomat said this was "non-negotiable" for the Europeans, who believe it was necessary that the board state for the record that Iran concealed its nuclear program for 18 years in violation of the NPT.

The EU3 -- France, Britain and Germany -- might consider officially submitting their original draft resolution, which called for an immediate Council report, to the IAEA board and call for a vote, diplomats said.

EU diplomats say they have 20 or 21 countries that would vote in favor of the original resolution, but that at least a dozen of the 35 members of the IAEA board opposed it -- including China and Russia.

However, they expected some or most of those would abstain, which the Western powers say would be acceptable.

"The question is, can we live with a Russian 'no' vote? That's what we have to decide," an EU diplomat said. READ MORE


Moscow and Beijing have warned the Western powers against stepping up the standoff with Iran, saying it could escalate uncontrollably into an international crisis.

Simply being on the Security Council's agenda can be humiliating in itself, since it is the world's top body charged with monitoring global peace and security. It can issue anything from verbal warnings to travel restrictions for officials or even impose a total trade embargo on countries if it chooses.

But Russia and China, which are permanent, veto-wielding members of the 15-nation council, could block any action.

Iran's ambassador to the IAEA, Mohammad Mehdi Akhunzadeh, told the Western nations to end their threats of a Council report and return to negotiations.

"Above all, the process needs time. Haste here can make terrible waste. Let us put the threat back in the drawers, return to negotiations and give ourselves time to resolve this matter in peace," Akhunzadeh said.

The EU3 has been negotiating with Iran for two years to persuade it to scrap its uranium enrichment program, which can produce fuel for energy or weapons, in exchange for economic and political incentives.

But Tehran rejected the EU offer last month and resumed uranium processing at a facility in Isfahan, work that had been suspended under a November deal with the EU3. This prompted the Europeans to demand Iran be reported to the Security Council.

In a letter in the Wall Street Journal, the EU3 foreign ministers and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana noted: "The proliferation risks if Iran continues on its current path are very great."

(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Tehran, Francois Murphy in Vienna, Lindsay Beck in Beijing, Madeline Chambers in London, Oliver Bullough in Moscow and James Mackenzie in Berlin)