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. Diplomacy on Iran's nuclear program to continue: analysts
VIENNA (AFP) Oct 27, 2005
The Iranian president's call for Israel to be "wiped off the map" is a blow to international talks over Iran's nuclear program but does not mean Tehran necessarily faces UN reprisals, diplomats and analysts told AFP Thursday.

The United States wants Iran brought before the UN Security Council, which can impose sanctions, for what it says is a covert nuclear weapons program.

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said in Washington that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's comments Wednesday in Tehran "underscore the concerns we have about Iran's nuclear intentions."

But "the key to what happens in Vienna (where the UN nuclear watchdog is to decide in November whether to send the Iranian file to the Security Council) is Russia's position and this still does not change Russia's position," said Mark Fitzpatrick, a senior fellow at the IISS think tank in London.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday that Russia's support for what Iran says is a peaceful civilian nuclear power program remains unchanged, the Interfax news agency reported in Moscow.

Ahmadinejad's statement has however fuelled arguments that talks between Iran and the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) over monitoring of the Iranian atomic program are fruitless.

The European Union said in a statement in London that incitement to violence was "despicable and unacceptable."

And even Russia, Iran's main nuclear ally, said in Lavrov's words "that those who favor transferring the Iranian nuclear issue to the UN Security Council now have an additional argument" for doing so.

Russia however urges "the resolution of all questions that come up in relation to Iran's nuclear program" through cooperation between Tehran and the IAEA, Lavrov said during a visit to Jordan.

Russia has a lucrative contract to build Iran's first nuclear power station.

A Middle Eastern diplomat close to the IAEA said the controversy over Ahmadinejad's comments should not derail diplomatic efforts.

"If these comments are followed up by other radical moves, then there is room for concern, but otherwise it is just a storm in a teacup," the diplomat said.

Another diplomat close to the IAEA said the Iranian president's comments "are not going to help back-door negotiations taking place but they are not going to tip them over."

The diplomat said that Ahmadinejad, whose hardline stance may be challenged in Iran by those who favor winning over the IAEA in order to avoid referral to the Security Council, may have spoken out against Israel in order to rally his "domestic audience."

The United States and the EU will hold off taking Iran before the UN Security Council until they get Russia to back them and may even allow Tehran to do some nuclear fuel work, diplomats told AFP earlier this week.

The IAEA's 35-nation board of governors in September found Iran in non-compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, paving the way for the matter to be referred to the council if Iran does not halt nuclear fuel work and cooperate fully with an IAEA investigation.

The matter is to be taken up at the next IAEA board meeting in Vienna on November 24.

Diplomats said informal talks are already taking place, mainly between Iran and Russia, over a compromise under which Iran would be allowed to do preliminary nuclear fuel work, something the EU has so far refused to accept.

All rights reserved. 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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