The EU hopes for a diplomatic breakthrough with Iran after casual discussions in MunichImage: Montage AP/DW
DW Staff/AFP (jen)
February 8, 2007
Iran and the EU appear ready to use a security conference in Munich to try and defuse tensions over Iran's nuclear ambitions. But the US continued to push for tough European action.
European countries will use informal contacts with top Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani at a security conference this weekend to try to defuse the crisis over Iran's atomic ambitions, diplomats said.
The goal is to get Iran "to come up with some realistic, achievable proposals" to meet the UN's demand for it to suspend uranium enrichment, a European diplomat told AFP news service in Vienna, where the UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is headquartered.
The crisis is at a clear standoff as Iran rejects the UN Security Council resolution of Dec. 23 which imposed limited sanctions to force it to stop enriching uranium. Enriched uranium makes fuel for civilian nuclear power reactors but also explosive material for atom bombs.
Switzerland plays 'water-carrier' role
This process is at the heart of US charges that Iran is hiding work to develop nuclear weapons behind what Tehran claims is a peaceful energy program.
A second diplomat said Switzerland was "playing a secret role to carry some water and find countries that want to seek common ground with Iran and use carrots and not just sticks," referring to offering Iran benefits if it were to freeze enrichment work.
Germany would also lead this initiative, at the Conference on Security Policy being held in Munich from Friday to Sunday, diplomats said.
France, Britain in backseat
Britain and France, Germany's partners in the EU-3 line up that has negotiated with Iran, were taking a harder line. They want to see Iran first take the step of ceasing uranium enrichment, the diplomats said.
But French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin told the Financial Times on Tuesday that the West "must combine dialogue with firmness in our approach (to Iran). I think the US and Europe can go further in dialogue and proposals."
The Security Council could impose tougher sanctions if a report by IAEA chief Mohamed El Baradei later this month shows Tehran continuing to defy the Security Council.
Message for Larijani
The message in Munich will be "very clear" as the Europeans will urge Larijani to have Iran "re-engage (with the international community). Don't dig yourself deeper in the famous hole," one diplomat said.
On Monday, Larijani told Iran's ISNA news agency that he hoped to have "good talks and negotiations," in Munich.
But in a sign the stalemate is not about to end anytime soon, he ruled out meeting with US officials on the sidelines of the event.
Like the Davos economic forum, the Munich meeting gathers key world leaders in a framework that favors informal contacts.
New US Defense Secretary Robert Gates will be there, as well as Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who led the EU's now-stalled talks with Iran.
No breakthrough expected
The European diplomat, who asked not to be named due to the sensitivity of the issue, said: "I don't expect breakthroughs from that meeting (with Larijani). This is hopefully a chance to sound out feelers and not more."
Speaking to a conference in Munich, US ambassador to the IAEA Gregory Schulte warned of possible "additional measures" against Iran if that country continued to deny Security Council demands to stop uranium enrichment.
He praised the EU for swiftly implementing the UN resolution banning trade in nuclear weapons and ballistic missile technology. But he once again said Europeans could do more, including ending credits subsidizing exports to Iran and taking other measures to discourage investment.
"A non-military campaign, if serious and sustained, and supported by other like-minded countries, has the potential to succeed against a regime that … needs foreign investment to sustain government revenue."
But he added that whatever they do, the US and Europe must avoid looking like the West is on a new "crusade" against muslim countries.