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Wrangling with Iran

February 7, 2010

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said on Saturday that Iran still had to prove to the rest of the world that it was willing to make meaningful concessions regarding its nuclear program.

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle at the Munich security conference
Westerwelle is unconvinced by Iran's actionsImage: AP
Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki
Iran's Foreign Minister Mottaki said progress had been made in talks with the WestImage: picture alliance / dpa

"Our hand is still reaching out towards [Iran]," Westerwelle said on Saturday, February 6. "But so far it's reaching out into a void. And I've seen nothing since yesterday that makes me want to change that view."

These comments came 12 hours after Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki - a surprise visitor at this year's Munich Security Conference - said that he expected a deal between his country and Western powers "in the not very distant future."

Westerwelle called for combined efforts world-wide to reduce both conventional and nuclear weapons and stressed that the international community could not accept a nuclear-armed Iran.

"That would lead to a destabilization of the whole region," he said. “Further, it would fatally weaken the nuclear non-proliferation treaty.”

In order to prove it was actually serious, Germany's vice chancellor said Iran "must take action."

Fuel exchange

Last year the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) proposed that Iran ship low-intensity uranium abroad for enrichment, then re-import the enriched variant for use in a medical reactor, used to treat cancer patients, in Tehran.

The idea was to give Iran access to peaceful nuclear technology without it enriching uranium at home - a process world powers fear is designed to produce a nuclear bomb.

Police dog with uniformed handler in front of the conference venue
The security conference is being held at Munich's Bayerischer Hof hotelImage: AP

After months of stalling, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday said that his country was willing to accept the deal. On Friday, Mottaki said that that was true, but that Iran wanted to change some of the details.

On Saturday, the European Union's new foreign-policy director, Catherine Ashton, said that she welcomed the fact that Mottaki had decided at the last minute to come to Munich.

But she stressed that the IAEA plan and overtures conducted by the US administration "have so far gone without adequate response," warning the Iranian regime that "dialogue takes two."

The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) insisited that Iran had brought nothing to the negotiating tabel.

"There was not a new proposal," IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said shortly after a meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference.

Threat of military action

US Senator John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said in a panel discussion at the conference that world leaders needed to be clear with Iran about what is expected of it.

"We haven't been clear to this day. Everyone has been running around beating their chest saying Iran, you can't have a nuclear weapon. But we haven't been clear.

"I think that's a very waffly way to be trying to control something as serious as this."

Fellow US lawmaker, US Senator Joe Lieberman, who heads the Senate Committe on Homeland Security, told the German Press Agency dpa that the world faces a choice between imposing tough sanctions against Iran or launching a military strike.

Lieberman was the last speaker of the day on Saturday and obviously frustrated at the Iranian Foreign Minister’s late-night speech on Friday didn't mince his words.

"We have a choice here: to go to tough economic sanctions to make diplomacy work or we will face the prospect of military action against Iran," Lieberman said.

That is because a nuclear-armed Iran would create chaos in the Middle East, send oil prices soaring and shatter any hope of an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he said.

"They should just accept the existing (IAEA) proposal," Lieberman told dpa.

Capital punishment

Meanwhile, Iran rejected European Union demands for a halt to the execution of opposition demonstrators.

Iran's foreign minister said during a debate with Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt that Iranians condemned to death in the wake of last year's disputed election and subsequent unrest were “criminals.”

a composite picture of the two men
Arash Rahmanipour und Mohammadreza Alizamani were exectued last month

Mottaki told an audience at the conference that a “few people” had burned houses and buses last year. “When crime happens, that is not protest,” he said.

Bildt urged Mottaki to halt anticipated judicial killings of nine opposition demonstrators who were handed death sentences by Iranian authorities last Tuesday.

If Iran went ahead with those executions, EU-Iranian relations would be affected in a "most detrimental" way, Bildt said.

Last month, the EU, along with Amnesty International, had condemned the hangings of the dissidents Mohammed Reza Alizamani and Arash Rahmani. Capital punishment is barred across Europe under a Council of Europe convention and is outlawed or no longer practiced by 140 of the 192 UN member nations.

Mottaki drew hisses from some in the Munich audience when he insisted that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had been re-elected last June by a margin of 11 million votes. Iranian opposition groups say the election was rigged. An estimated 4,000 people including reformist politicians and journalists were detained during a crackdown. Fresh unrest in December resulted in eight deaths.

Editor: Toma Tasovac