Reuters: Iran and top EU powers failed on Friday to reach agreement before a U.N. watchdog meeting next week that may lead to Security Council action over concerns Tehran secretly seeks atom bombs. By Mark Heinrich
VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran and top EU powers failed on Friday to reach agreement before a U.N. watchdog meeting next week that may lead to Security Council action over concerns Tehran secretly seeks atom bombs.
After two hours of high-level talks in Vienna requested on short notice by Iran, the foreign ministers of Germany and France and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said Tehran offered no new ideas on how to allay fears about its intentions.
They repeated to Iran that it must shelve enrichment-related work to regain trust and spawn fresh negotiations on trade incentives, which could include Russia’s offer to purify uranium for Iran to prevent possible siphoning into bomb production.
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation board of governors convenes on Monday to weigh a report by the IAEA chief saying essentially Iran has ignored a February 4 board resolution urging it to shelve uranium-enrichment work to ease the crisis.
Iran refused to halt its nuclear fuel drive in Friday’s talks with the EU powers including Britain, represented by a top diplomat instead of Foreign Secretary Jack Straw who was ill.
“We wanted to see if Iran was in a position to give a positive answer to the coming IAEA board. Our terms are simple and legitimate and would not jeopardise Iran’s (economic) development. Unfortunately we were not able to reach agreement,” French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told reporters.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the EU3, which froze talks with Iran in January after it broke a 2 1/2-year moratorium on nuclear work, granted its request for a short-notice meeting hoping to hear a new proposal, but in vain.
“Today’s meeting came at a very critical point in time. Time is running short. If we want success (by negotiations), we have to get it now,” Steinmeier said.
“The IAEA board deliberations on Iran’s nuclear programme will happen next week and they will be of great significance — either we’ll achieve a deal enabling renewed negotiations or the matter will be referred to the Security Council.”
John Sawers, political director at the British Foreign Office representing Straw, told reporters: “There is no scheduled further meeting at the moment between Iran and the EU3. However, if the Iranians have something new to say and seek a further meeting with us, then of course we are prepared to have one.”
There was no immediate comment from Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani. But he said after inconclusive talks with Russia earlier this week that Iran would not abandon its right to enrich uranium on its own soil.
IRAN ACCELERATING NUCLEAR DRIVE
The failure of Friday’s meeting surprised no one, given that Tehran is accelerating fresh uranium enrichment activity while going slow in talks on Russia’s compromise idea to defuse the crisis before the Security Council weighs possible sanctions.
The Vienna-based board reported Iran to the Council but on the condition the top world body on war and peace issues would not flex its muscle at least until after next week’s session.
In past weeks, Iranian leaders have been roaming the world trying to mine non-Western opposition to punishing Tehran without hard evidence of covert bomb-making and inviting Western stakes in its atomic programme to help ensure it is peaceful.
Iran says it wants only nuclear-generated electricity. But it hid atomic work from the IAEA for 18 years, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has publicly called for Israel to be destroyed and the IAEA says Tehran continues to stonewall its investigations.
Larijani said earlier Iran asked for another hearing with the EU because “we believe our programmes are clear and defensible” but warned Russia’s proposal would die if the Security Council got involved.
If the Security Council does crack down on Iran after the IAEA session, the Islamic Republic would feel discriminated against and see little point remaining within the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Tehran’s IAEA ambassador said.
“One thing has to be clear. If … the Security Council gets involved the situation will definitely deteriorate, a lose-lose game,” Ali Asghar Soltanieh told Reuters by phone on Thursday.
“This is not a warning but a reality. Many in Iran have national pride in nuclear activities. If we are referred to the Council, they would be very disappointed,” Soltanieh said.
He said many Iranians wondered why some countries — such as Israel and India — had refused to join the NPT, developed nuclear arsenals without IAEA safeguards and enjoyed normal relations with the West, while Iran faced isolation.
IAEA director-general Mohamed ElBaradei, who is also due to meet the foreign ministers, welcomed the EU3-Iran meeting in hopes it would provide an opening for compromise.
ElBaradei is concerned that involving the Security Council may drive Iran into a corner and lead to deadlock, given that veto-wielding Russia and China — both with massive investments in the Islamic Republic — reject sanctions.