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Europe Sticks to Hard Line on Iran as Merkel Warns of Threat

DW staff (ktz/nda)January 30, 2006

Iran has rejected the threat of a referral to the UN Security Council, arguing that the only solution to the nuclear dispute is through negotiations. Meanwhile Angela Merkel called Iran "a threat" to democracy on Sunday.

The West accuses Iran of developing nuclear weaponsImage: AP Graphics

Iran's foreign ministry insisted on Sunday that the only solution to the standoff with the West over its nuclear program is through negotiations and not a referral to the United Nations Security Council. Tehran threatened to halt "all voluntary cooperation" with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) if the West decides to pass the case on to the UN.

Tehran, which decided to resume uranium enrichment research despite international objection, has defended its nuclear activity saying it only wants to make fuel for civil atomic power. The West fears the project masks a secret nuclear weapons program.

"All our friends in Europe and the IAEA board know the Islamic Republic's position: referring the case to or informing the UN Security Council will lead to Iran stopping all voluntary cooperation," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told a news conference.

The West, however, is sticking to its hard line that a draft composed by Britain, France and Germany at an emergency meeting in London on Monday includes the suggestion to ask the IAEA to refer the matter to the Security Council. Although the EU trio has spent two and a half years negotiating with Tehran over its atomic program, they say time is running out and are seriously considering putting the issue up for a vote on economic sanctions.

Merkel gets tough and calls Iran a threat to democratic world

In Germany, where politicians have been cautious on the issue, the rhetoric became audibly more stringent over the weekend with Chancellor Angela Merkel taking the hardest line yet in her words on the issue.

Merkel said at the start of her first visit to Israel on Sunday

that Iran threatens not only the Jewish state but the entire democratic world. "Iran is not just a threat to Israel, but also to the democratic countries of this world."

Adding that both Germany and Israel shared the same view on Iran's ambitions, Merkel said: "I don't see the slightest difference in the views of Germany and Israel. It is clear that Iran should not get the ability to enrich uranium."

Merkel also condemned Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his anti-Israeli remarks. Ahmadinejad has said the Jewish state should be "wiped off the map" and doubted that six million Jews had been killed by the Nazis during World War II. "It's unacceptable that Iran's president rejects and falsifies history," she said.

Acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert thanked Merkel for supporting Israel on the question of Iran's nuclear program. "I would ... like to thank you for your position on Iran. It is a topic that causes great concern here in Israel," he said.

A case for sanctions?

Earlier at the weekend, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier suggested a tougher German line by saying it would be unwise to rule out economic sanctions.

In an interview with the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel, the minister said "the latest signals from Tehran are contradictory at best." He added: "I'm aware of the criticisms that Iran is using tricks and playing for time – and I can't seriously deny them."

German Defense Minister Franz Josef Jung also left open the possibility of sanctions. Speaking to the Frankfurter Allgemeinen Sonntagszeitung, he said if Russia and China went along with the strategy, economic sanctions could be effective in convincing Iran to give up its "obvious intentions of developing atomic weapons."

Iran calls for diplomacy

In a last-ditch effort to avoid a UN referral and sanctions, Iran called for talks with Britain, France and Germany in Brussels on Monday. Javad Vaeedi, deputy head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, will meet diplomats from the EU-3.

"Europeans should be patient and try to find a formula to resolve this nuclear issue," said foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi. "We are determined to remove any ambiguities over our nuclear ambitions and also protect our right."

In the past Iran has repeatedly said it would never abandon its drive to enrich uranium – a necessary step for developing nuclear power reactors and, when highly enriched, nuclear bombs.

The IAEA's 35-nation board of governors will hear arguments on Feb. 2 from the EU-3 and the United States as well as from Russia and China who fear an escalation of the crisis and UN economic sanctions against Iran.