The Times: Britain, France and Germany were drafting a resolution last night that would refer Iran to the United Nations for possible punitive sanctions because of Tehrans controversial nuclear programme. The Times
By Richard Beeston, Diplomatic Editor
BRITAIN, France and Germany were drafting a resolution last night that would refer Iran to the United Nations for possible punitive sanctions because of Tehrans controversial nuclear programme.
The move, which could have serious consequences in relations with one of the most powerful nations in the Islamic world, signalled the end of two years of intense diplomacy aimed at persuading Tehran voluntarily to curb its nuclear ambitions.
The endgame will be played out today and tomorrow at a meeting of the 35-nation International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna, where the states of the European Union look likely to support Americas longstanding demand that Iran be referred to the UN Security Council. Tehran raised the stakes still further yesterday by threatening to resume uranium enrichment if that happened.
Any hope of a compromise was shattered over the weekend when President Ahmadinejad, the newly elected Iranian leader, used his maiden speech before the UN General Assembly to attack the West and declare his intention to build a civilian nuclear industry, which many suspect is a cover for acquiring an atomic bomb.
If some try to impose their will on the Iranian people through resort to a language of force and threat with Iran, we will reconsider our entire approach to the nuclear issue, said Mr Ahmadinejad, who accused the West of trying to enforce nuclear apartheid.
Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, who listened to the speech in New York, described it as disappointing and unhelpful. He was holding discussions with counterparts from other key countries yesterday on what concerted action should now be taken.
We need to get a feel of whether now is the right time to push for a referral or not, a British diplomat close to the negotiations said. We might be able to get a majority at the IAEA. Jack Straw is sounding out his counterparts on where they stand.
Officials in Vienna believe that 20 members of the IAEA would support action against Iran. Those in favour include the United States, the EU, Japan and Australia, Singapore and Peru.
However, the move would split the organisation in half with opposition from Non-Aligned Movement states including India, Brazil and South Africa. China, which relies heavily on imports of Iranian oil, is also opposed as is Russia, which has the contract to build Irans multibillion-pound nuclear reactor at Bushehr.
One possible outcome is that the 14 non-aligned states would abstain in a vote. As of last night, only Russia and Venezuela had decided to vote against.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the head of the IAEA, is still hoping for a deal. He wants Iran to be given one more chance to comply with its commitments to the IAEA.
In return there were reports yesterday that Tehran may allow UN experts to question senior Iranian military officials and visit closed military sites.
At the heart of the dispute is Irans insistence on building a nuclear fuel cycle to supply civilian nuclear reactors.
Tehran is adamant that as a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty it can build uranium conversion and enrichment plants, which it has offered to open to IAEA inspection.
Western and other nations, however, are suspicious of Tehrans intentions, not least because expensive nuclear energy seems illogical in a country rich in oil and natural gas.
In particular, there are fears that Irans real intention is to produce highly enriched uranium at weapons-grade level.
Last year Iran voluntarily suspended its uranium conversion facility at Isfahan and its enrichment plant at Natanz under an agreement with Britain, France and Germany.
But last month it rejected an EU offer to be supplied with nuclear fuel from abroad and unilaterally restarted conversion work at Isfahan.
It threatened yesterday to resume enrichment at Natanz if the IAEA refers it to the UN. Enrichment is not on the agenda for the time being but if the IAEA meeting [today”> leads to radical results, we will make our decision to correspond to that, Hamid Reza Asefi, the Foreign Ministry spokesman, said. In a radical atmosphere, there is the possibility of any decision [by Iran”>.
Ali Aghamohammadi, spokesman for the Supreme National Security Council, was even blunter. If nuclear negotiations [with the EU”> are stopped, it is normal that we will start the activities at Natanz facility, he said.
That latest threat from Iran will come as no surprise to Washington. It has long argued that Tehran is determined to build a nuclear bomb and must be stopped by sanctions and other penalties. As a last resort, the Bush Administration would even consider the use of force.
Getting tough with Iran could also have serious consequences for Britain. Groups armed by hardline Iranian factions have been blamed for recent attacks against British troops in southern Iraq. Iran could mobilise further Shia Muslim insurgent activity in Iraq if it wanted to hit back at Britain and America.
August 2002 An Iranian exile group, the National Council of Resistance of Iran, says that the country has secret uranium enrichment plants
February 2003 International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) begins inspection of sites in Iran
June 2004 IAEA accuses Iran of failing to comply fully with its inspection
November 2004 Iran agrees to suspend uranium enrichment in a deal with the European Union
February 2005 President Khatami says Iran will never give up its nuclear programmes
August 5 Iran rejects EU proposals for abandoning uranium enrichment in exchange for economic co-operation
August 10 Iran breaches agreement with EU by resuming uranium processing at a plant in Isfahan
September 18 President Ahmadinejad tells the United Nations that Iran has an inalienable right to develop nuclear power