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World Powers Split Over Iran Nuclear Program

by Staff Writers
Vienna (AFP) Jan 17, 2006
Europe sought Tuesday to keep up pressure on Iran over its nuclear program, dismissing as vacuous a Tehran offer to resume talks and seeking to overcome Russian and Chinese opposition to UN action.

Amid signs of an international split over how to respond to the crisis over Iran's nuclear ambitions, British Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman said Tehran's call for fresh talks was "vacuous."

But he conceded there was a "great deal of diplomacy to pursue" in order to build an international consensus to bring Iran into line over a program which the United States claims is hiding covert atomic weapons development.

World powers seemed divided a day after Britain, France and Germany called for an emergency meeting February 2-3 of the 35-nation board of governors of the UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Their call followed talks in London which also gathered together officials from China, Russia and the United States.

The IAEA could refer Iran to the UN Security Council, which has the powers to impose sanctions, but Russia and China are resisting European and US calls for such intervention.

Russia said sanctions were not the best way forward, while China called for a return to the negotiating table.

Tehran, meanwhile, vowed reprisals against any crackdown, saying it would end tough UN inspections and fully resume nuclear fuel work if the dossier is referred to the Security Council.

Ali Asgar Soltaniyeh, its ambassador to the Vienna-based IAEA, said Iran's decision to kick-start nuclear research was "irreversible".

Separately, Israel's Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert warned Iran that it would not allow any regime which threatened its existence to obtain weapons of mass destruction.

Israel has come to view the Islamic republic in Tehran as its number one enemy, its fears heightened when Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called in October for the Jewish state to be "wiped off the map."

The talks in London joining the five permanent Security Council members and Germany were called after Iran, defying the IAEA, broke the seals on a nuclear facility last week in order to resume research on uranium enrichment after a voluntary suspension.

Enriched uranium can be fuel for civilian nuclear reactors, but in a highly enriched form also the raw material for an atomic bomb.

Diplomats said the talks were inconclusive.

"The Chinese and Russians are still formulating their own tactics of what to do at the board meeting," a British Foreign Office spokesman said.

A European diplomat close to the IAEA said that while Russia had previously agreed not to block referral to the Security Council, "the Russians are backing off, it seems to me."

An Iranian official said Tehran had written to Britain, France and Germany asking for talks Wednesday, a date scrapped by the EU troika.

Diplomats said that if the case goes to the Security Council, a first step would be a statement urging Iran to honor existing IAEA demands that it cease nuclear fuel activities and resume talks on guaranteeing that its program is peaceful.

Any sanctions would come later.

Russia and China, which have close trade and energy ties to Iran, have been reluctant in the past to pursue international action against it, but a senior British official said neither had objected to an IAEA session.

"We don't see this leading straight into sanctions," he said under cover of anonymity.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said sanctions were "not the best and by no means the only way to resolve international problems."

He urged Iran to do more to cooperate with the IAEA. "Iran should do much more than it has done. Certain progress has been achieved in clarifying dark spots, but more is required of Iran."

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Kong Quan said all sides at the talks in London had expressed concerns over Iran's actions.

"All the parties believed that Iran should return to the moratorium and to the diplomatic negotiation process," he said.

In Vienna, diplomats said that Iran still had a chance to back off and let diplomacy resume before the February meeting.

A diplomat close to the IAEA said that while the Iranians have taken seals off machines which manufacture nuclear reactor fuel, they have not started up the machines.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei held Sunday a secret meeting with Iran's chief negotiator Ali Larijani, who lobbied for help in avoiding measures and offered the concession of allowing snap inspections, a diplomat here said.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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