Unless Iran changes its stance on nuclear enrichment, it has little chance of avoiding a UN Security Council referral, said British Foreign Secretary Straw ahead of talks aimed to get Iran to cooperate.
The West says Iran has broken nuclear non-proliferation obligations
In comments at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said negotiations with Iran were extremely tough going, but that diplomacy was the only way to move ahead in the nuclear stand-off. His statements came ahead of a meeting of the foreign ministers of the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany (as member of the so-called EU-3 delegation negotiating with Iran) aimed at agreeing to a joint policy on how to deal with Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
Straw said the negotiators would decide at a Monday meeting in London what kind of resolution to put to the UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), which meets Feb. 2 to discuss Iran's breach of non-proliferation obligations.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw
"We are trying to persuade Iran to come back into compliance. There is some intense diplomacy taking place over this weekend," Straw told Reuters Television early Saturday. A decision to ask the IAEA to refer Iran to the Security Council would be made in light of discussions on Monday, Straw said.
If it is the consensus of all those present at the Monday meeting, Straw said "the chances of Iran avoiding a reference are low." The foreign secretary said he would "much prefer to resolve the issue within the IAEA," but the IAEA statutes make clear that when an issue can't be resolved and when a nation is found non-compliant, the matter has to be directed to the Security Council.
And Iran is "very clearly" not complying, Straw said, pointing to Tehran's decision to break IAEA seals and resume sensitive atomic fuel research earlier this month.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier
Upping the pressure on Iran to cooperate, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who will also participate in the talks, said all options needed to be kept open, including levying economic sanctions if Iran refuses to cooperate. Speaking to the news magazine Spiegel, Steinmeier said it would not be prudent to exclude economic sanctions. "Iran should not underestimate to what extent it is dependent on technical and economic cooperation with the West," he said.
Breaking the deadlock
Britain, France and Germany – the EU-3 – have been involved in negotiations with Iran for over a year, with little sign of progress. Offers to Iran of financial and technical know-how in exchange for stopping sensitive research on the enrichment of uranium – one of the first steps for developing atomic weapons – were pushed on and off again by the Islamic Republic, which claims its nuclear program is strictly civilian in nature.
When Iran broke the UN seals on its nuclear facilities at the beginning of the month and announced it would proceed with plans as intended, the EU trio said talks had reached a "dead end." But since then the three have revised their position and together with Washington have stressed that diplomacy remains the best way to resolve the dispute.
Bushehr nuclear power plant in south Iran.
It is now up to Iran to get the ball rolling again if it wants to avoid a Security Council referral. "What we have said is that they have to provide objective guarantees that the nuclear capability is solely for civil nuclear power purposes," Straw reiterated in Davos.
"What we want to see is them coming forward and then we can get to a normalization with plenty of incentives and all the rest," the British official said.
A proposal put forth by Moscow to allow Iran to follow through with uranium enrichment activity on Russian soil as a means of quelling the dispute, has generated a good deal of interest. The Iranians, who wish to continue with the sensitive enrichment but have been prevented from doing so by international regulations, could do so across the border, where they would come under Russian supervision.
Mohammed el Baradei, head of IAEA, referred to the Russian proposal as an "attractive offer" that warranted consideration. Jack Straw was cautiously optimistic about Russia's role in the nuclear dispute. "Russia plays an active role in finding a solution, which we could possibly support," he said Saturday. US President George W. Bush has also thrown his weight behind the Russian compromise offer.