As the IAEA met in Vienna on Monday to discuss Iran's nuclear ambitions, Iran announced plans to resume enriching uranium. Meanwhile, EU foreign ministers signaled their willingness to take a harder line.
The Bushehr nuclear plant in Iran, scene of the controversy
On Monday, the same day members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) were gathered in Vienna for a meeting, Iran announced its plans to resume enriching uranium, thereby effectively going back on a promise made to European leaders last October.
Hossein Mousavian, head of Iran's delegation to the IAEA, told reporters that the suspension of uranium enrichment was a voluntary gesture made by his country "just for a short, temporary period."
European foreign ministers gathered in Brussels to discuss how to handle the stubborn would-be atomic power did not react favorably to the news. In a reversal of previous policy, they indicated that the time may have come to abandon constructive engagement in favor of a harder line.
"There is a risk of Tehran making a miscalculation," German Foreign Minster Joschka Fischer said in Brussels. "I hope that it sees and understands that. If not, we could be in a serious situation." His British counterpart, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, added: "They cannot turn the issue of confidence on and off like a tap."
Playing the same game?
"It's always the same", a British diplomat recently complained. "Whenever more pressure is applied to Tehran, the government concedes to a compromise at the last minute. But what does this actually gain? A little more time for negotiation, but hardly a solution to end the conflict once and for all," he added
The same pattern seemed to be developing in the run-up to Monday's meeting of IAEA. The United States, frustrated with Iran's tug-of-war, signaled that time was running out for Iran to cooperate with the international community. Meanwhile, Europe antagonized the US by lobbying for more negotiations and rejecting proposals to pass the matter along to the UN Security Council.
This time around, however, things may be very different indeed. According to sources in Brussels, EU Foreign Ministers are prepared to pursue a tougher course of action.
EU diplomats signaled that the bloc may agree to send the matter to the Security Council after all. Referral to the UN could lead to punitive actions for Tehran if it does not comply with Security Council resolutions.
EU's tougher line
Britain, France and Germany indicated that they were close to an agreement with the US to settle a November deadline for Iran to come clean about its atomic weapons plans, according to the newswire AFP.
Europe's "Big Three" have previously resisted setting a time limit. Over the course of nearly a year, officials from London, Paris and Berlin, held off Washington, while US politicians argued that Iran was secretly developing weapons of mass destruction. But since signing an agreement with the three EU countries last October, Tehran has backtracked on some of its promises, such as suspending manufacturing of centrifuges used for uranium enrichment. In the last several months, Iran has also proven less open to Europe's diplomacy.
Mohamed El Baradei, Secretary General IAEA
A European draft resolution, proposed by Britain, France and Germany, could call on IAEA Secretary General Mohamed El Baradei (photo) to file a report before the next board meeting in November and make a "definite determination on whether or not further steps are required," a diplomat close to IAEA told AFP.
Rather than threatening with an ultimatum and sanctions as the US has suggested, such a time frame would once again give Iran the chance to modify its nuclear policies over the next two months and avoid a full confrontation with the United States. But should Iran pass up this last chance, they may not find a willing advocate for further negotiations in the Europe -- that is if EU foreign ministers back-up Monday's tough talk with tough actions.