Reuters: Switzerland recently sent a senior official to Iran to discuss a proposal aimed at resolving Tehran’s nuclear dispute with the West, despite requests by key Western powers to drop the idea, diplomats said. By Louis Charbonneau
BERLIN, March 21 (Reuters) – Switzerland recently sent a senior official to Iran to discuss a proposal aimed at resolving Tehran’s nuclear dispute with the West, despite requests by key Western powers to drop the idea, diplomats said.
The diplomats said Swiss Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Ambuehl went to Tehran sometime after a visit to Bern last month by Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani.
“The purpose of (Ambuehl’s) visit was to promote a Swiss initiative to reach a compromise with Iran over its nuclear file and resume talks on nuclear-related issues,” said a one-page report about the trip given to Reuters by a Western diplomat.
The proposal is that Iran would be permitted to keep its current uranium enrichment infrastructure of several hundred centrifuges. Iran could run the centrifuges but would not feed any processed uranium hexafluoride (UF6) into the machines while negotiating a package of incentives with six world powers.
Swiss Foreign Ministry spokesman Johann Aeschlimann neither confirmed nor denied the report about Ambuehl’s visit to Tehran, but said: “Switzerland has not put forward a proposal to run these centrifuges without uranium gas.”
Half a dozen diplomats said the idea was not an official proposal on paper but confirmed the Swiss have been pushing it and had discussed it repeatedly with the Iranians.
Diplomats said the plan was being coordinated with International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei.
Although key Western powers are dismissive of the idea, it could eventually complicate their drive to gradually expand sanctions against Tehran since both the IAEA and Iran are considering it favourably, the diplomats said.
Russia and China, which can veto any sanctions resolutions at the U.N. Security Council, would like a compromise with Iran.
Germany’s U.N. ambassador in New York, Thomas Matussek, was aware of the proposal but said it had played no role in current discussions on Iran at the U.N. Security Council.
The IAEA declined to comment, though a diplomat close to the agency said the Iranians were “relatively positive” about the idea. Iran’s foreign ministry had no immediate comment.
SPINNING ON EMPTY
The West fears Iran is developing atomic weapons under cover of an energy programme and demand that it freeze its enrichment programme, which can produce uranium fuel for bombs or power plants. Iran insists its nuclear intentions are peaceful.
The diplomats said the United States and the European Union’s three biggest powers — Germany, France and Britain — dislike the Swiss idea and asked the Swiss to open up a second negotiating track with Iran in addition to the one already open.
The four powers, along with Russia and China, offered last year to hold talks with Iran on a package of incentives provided it suspends uranium enrichment beforehand, something Iran has so far refused to do.
“Trying to establish a second track is not an approach we wish to take,” a U.S. official said. An EU3 diplomat agreed.
The IAEA concluded in an internal report on the Swiss idea that Iran could gain useful technical knowledge from the dry operation of centrifuges, including information about the durability of the machinery and trouble-shooting. The United States and EU3 have drafted a second U.N. Security Council resolution imposing further sanctions on Tehran for refusing to suspend enrichment. This resolution is a follow-up to a December resolution approved by the Council.
But Council chair South Africa has called for a suspension of all sanctions against Iran and a renewal of negotiations. (Additional reporting by Evelyn Leopold at the United Nations, Karin Strohecker in Vienna, Sam Cage in Zurich and Frederick Dahl in Tehran)