The Scotsman: Britain’s threat of international sanctions against Iran over its controversial nuclear programme was yesterday undermined by China and France.
BRITAIN’S threat of international sanctions against Iran over its controversial nuclear programme was yesterday undermined by China and France.
The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, said yesterday that Iran could face UN Security Council sanctions for resuming nuclear activities, but added that military action was not being considered, a message backed by US president George Bush.
However, China’s UN ambassador expressed concern that even referring Iran to the Security Council might “complicate the issue” and stiffen Tehran’s resolve to carry on work to develop nuclear power, a plan that other countries fear is a cover for nuclear weapons.
And the French foreign ministry said the priority was to convene a special session of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to refer Iran to the UN Security Council, but added that talk of sanctions was premature.
Iran was taking a tough line yesterday with president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, vowing to end all voluntary co-operation with the IAEA if it is referred to the Security Council for possible sanctions.
Asked about these comments, China’s UN ambassador Wang Guangya said: “We want a solution, but to refer it might complicate the issue. This is our concern.”
However, he urged Iran to co-operate with Britain, France and Germany, known as the EU3, who have been leading negotiations to get Iran to abandon uranium conversion and enrichment activities, which it refuses to do.
The three countries declared that negotiations had reached a “dead end” two days after Iran broke UN seals at a uranium enrichment plant and said it was resuming nuclear research after a two-year freeze. Iran insists its nuclear programme is intended solely to generate electricity and says its research programme is non-negotiable.
In an interview yesterday, Mr Straw was talking up the possibility of sanctions. “Obviously, if Iran failed to comply, the Security Council would then consider sanctions,” he said.
But, when asked about the possibility of an attack on Iran, he stressed: “This can only be resolved by peaceful means. Nobody is talking about invading Iran or taking military action.”
He said he had a “strong suspicion” that Iran wanted to build a nuclear bomb but stressed that there was no categorical evidence to prove that. “To quote the White House, ‘Iran is not Iraq’,” Mr Straw said.
On Thursday, the Foreign Secretary had said it was “highly probable” that Iran will be referred to the UN Security Council because of its nuclear programme.
However, despite attempts at a unified approach, there were signs of different strategies emerging among the EU3.
French foreign ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei struck a markedly different tone, saying talk of sanctions was “premature for the moment”. He stated: “We’ll see what happens at the Security Council,” adding: “One step at a time.”
Mr Bush also refused to comment on the possibility of sanctions, saying that he was not going to pre-judge the issue, and spoke only in terms of a peaceful solution.
“I recognise that it’s logical that a country which has rejected diplomatic entreaties be sent to the United Nations Security Council,” he said.
Mr Bush, speaking to reporters after a meeting with the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, insisted the US is seeking to resolve the crisis over Iran by peaceful means.
“We’ve got an important job ahead of us to work on key issues like Iran. We spent some time talking about the Iranian issue and the desire to solve this issue diplomatically by working together,” he said.
Mrs Merkel said the Europeans and the US should work together on Iran and that they would not be intimidated by a country that had made “totally unacceptable” comments such as questioning the right of Israel to exist.
Meanwhile, Israel yesterday urged the international community to threaten Iran with sanctions.
And the Tory MP Michael Ancram had a novel idea of a sanction that would make an impact in football-mad Iran: exclusion from the World Cup. This, he said, “would give a very, very clear signal to Iran that the international community will not accept what they are doing”.