Iran Nuclear NewsIran nuclear threat increases transatlantic friction

Iran nuclear threat increases transatlantic friction

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Financial Times: Iran’s threat to resume nuclear enrichment-related activities has led to more friction between the three European governments negotiating with Tehran and the Bush administration, which refuses to join the talks, diplomats said yesterday. Nevertheless, the so-called EU3 of France, Germany and the UK are in broad agreement with Washington that they would refer the crisis to the United Nations Security Council if Iran renewed production of uranium hexafluoride gas. Financial Times

By Guy Dinmore in Washington, Daniel Dombey in Brussels, and Gareth Smyth in Tehran

Iran’s threat to resume nuclear enrichment-related activities has led to more friction between the three European governments negotiating with Tehran and the Bush administration, which refuses to join the talks, diplomats said yesterday.

Nevertheless, the so-called EU3 of France, Germany and the UK are in broad agreement with Washington that they would refer the crisis to the United Nations Security Council if Iran renewed production of uranium hexafluoride gas.

Negotiations between Iran and the EU3 stalled last Friday in London. Last night, on the sidelines of a New York conference to review the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, Joschka Fischer, Germany’s foreign minister, warned Kamal Kharrazi, his Iranian counterpart, of the repercussions of a possible Iranian decision to end its agreed freeze of enrichment-related activities.

But policy differences between the US and the EU3 emerged over the weekend in Washington. Senior European diplomats expressed their frustration to US officials over Washington’s refusal to take part in the negotiations with Iran, saying they could make no headway.

One US official said the Bush administration was concerned that the EU would not live up to its tough rhetoric and tackle Iran at the UN.

It is not clear if the western powers will seek to refer Iran immediately if the nuclear freeze is abandoned or wait several months until a new Iranian president is in place.

At present the Europeans are reluctant to force the issue to a crisis, just weeks before Iranian presidential elections scheduled for June 17.

Iran has always insisted that its nuclear programme is wholly peaceful. Production of the gas yields the feedstock that can then be fed through centrifuges to give enriched uranium for use in reactors, or possibly for a nuclear bomb.

Western governments demand that Iran cease and dismantle its nuclear fuel cycle programme. Iran has refused.

On Friday the EU refused to discuss Tehran’s proposals to retain a small number of centrifuges under the supervision of the International Atomic Energy Agency. No new formal talks between the two sides have been scheduled.

Frustrated with a lack of progress and what it sees as a deliberate EU attempt to string out the talks, Iran has threatened to resume nuclear activities this week.

EU officials are not convinced the threat is genuine and see it as another attempt to bring the US into the process. A source close to the administration said it was possible Iran would resume gas production this week.

The EU agreed in March that it would respond to such a move by backing referral of the case to the Security Council. In exchange the US, for the first time, extended limited incentives to Iran, including the sale of aircraft parts and allowing discussion of Iran’s bid to start accession talks at the World Trade Organisation.

A European diplomat in Iran said it would not be “helpful” for the nuclear talks to become an election issue in the country. He suggested the EU needed to bear in mind the domestic pressures Iranian negotiators faced.

But Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader, has vehemently rejected any link between the country’s elections and the nuclear talks.

In a speech in Kerman on Sunday he denounced “spokesmen of the Arrogance” for saying “they would like to talk to Iran about the nuclear issue after the presidential election”, and warned that the election was “nothing to do with them”.

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