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. Disappointed EU torn over how to handle Iran
VALKENBURG, The Netherlands (AFP) Sep 05, 2004
Disappointed European leaders seem to be torn between pursuing efforts to engage Iran and calls for a harder line over Tehran's nuclear aims, to bring them closer to the US stance.

European Union (EU) foreign ministers, gathered for back-to-work talks in the Netherlands this weekend, did little to disguise their deep concern over Iran, which Washington wants hauled before the UN Security Council.

"We agreed upon the need to send out a strong signal to Iran to cooperate with the IAEA," said Dutch Foreign Minister Bernard Bot, whose country holds the EU presidency, referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

"We cannot accept of course the development of weapon-grade uranium," he said. "That signal should be very strong and should be unanimously given by the 25" EU member states.

German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, who along with his British and French counterparts has spearheaded Europe's attempts to diplomatically engage Tehran, also turned up the pressure.

A nuclear-capable Iran "can become a subject for the (UN) Security Council, he said, referring to the IAEA board of governors meeting from September 13 which will discuss a new report on Tehran's atomic aims.

Washington, which has dubbed Iran part of an "axis of evil" along with Iraq and North Korea, plans to call at the IAEA meeting for the issue to be referred to the UN Security Council, in a move bringing sanctions a step closer.

Europe seems to in a quandary over how to proceed. "It is difficult to manage the situation," said one diplomat.

"Either we stick with the current way which risks not impressing the Iranians, or we go straight to the Security Council and they risk doing God knows what because they will feel betrayed by those who held up a solution for them."

The fear is that Iranian conservatives, who have maintained a hardline on the nuclear issue since winning February legislative elections, would use a standoff at the UN Security Council to raise the stakes even further.

"The risk is clear. We have to take account of the domestic balance of power in Tehran," said another diplomat. "We must find as unanimous a position as possible," he added.

But he cast doubt on whether the EU can come such a joint position in the next week -- coincidentally the IAEA board of governors meeting is on the same day at the next formal meeting of EU foreign ministers.

The Europeans' disappointment with Tehran is all the more bitter because they have for years refused to bow to American pressure to cut ties with the Iranian government.

"We have given them every opportunity to continue with dialogue, in particular on the enrichment program," said Bot.

He recalled that the Europeans last year offered to supply nuclear fuel to Iran in exchange for Tehran suspending its own enrichment activities, adding that the EU remains ready "to help them with their energy needs."

The Dutch minister's comments echo remarks by EU external relations commissioner Chris Patten, who last week lamented that the Union's relations with Tehran are going "backwards."

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