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U.K. proposes new talks on Iran nuke program

Britain is calling for new talks with Iran about its suspect nuclear program but will push for  U.N.  sanctions if the talks fail to make progress, according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Britain is calling for new talks with Iran about its suspect nuclear program but will push for militarily enforceable U.N. Security Council sanctions if those talks fail to make progress, according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press.

The proposal is angled toward Russia and China, allies of Tehran who have staunchly opposed firm Security Council action.

Senior diplomats from six key nations that have been struggling to find a way to deal with Iran’s suspect nuclear program will try to take a longer, strategic view of the standoff in discussions Monday, U.N. ambassadors said.

Representatives from the five veto-wielding U.N. Security Council nations — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — as well as Germany will meet as the council tries to overcome differences on a statement demanding a quick report on Iran’s nuclear program.

Senior diplomats from the four Western countries were expected to meet before the six-nation meeting. Late Monday afternoon, they will be joined by the U.N. ambassadors from the six countries, U.N. diplomats said.

Bolton hopes for agreement
U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said the meeting Monday “will basically consider the longer-range issues, although obviously in the capitals in Moscow and Beijing, certainly, they will now have a look” at the latest text of the Security Council statement, and hopefully the senior diplomats will have instructions “that will allow us to make progress.”

Bolton said he would like to see agreement on the statement when the Security Council meets again on Tuesday afternoon.

Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry also said he hoped the high-level diplomats meeting Monday would “look at the wider strategy of how we develop our relations with Iran.” He added: “But let’s be clear that negotiation of the (statement) will be done in the council.”

The British hoped the Russians and Chinese would agree to tougher council action on Iran should that be needed in exchange for Western willingness to engage in new negotiations.

Moscow has offered to enrich Iran’s uranium but is insisting that Iran must freeze its own uranium enrichment program — a possible pathway to nuclear arms.

Moscow and Beijing also want the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to assume the main role in cajoling Iran on enrichment and its refusal to fully cooperate with an IAEA probe.

Threat of ‘more serious measures’
The March 16 letter, which is marked “confidential” and displays the seal of the British Foreign Office, is from John Sawers, a top British negotiator.

“We are not going to bring the Russians and Chinese to accept significant sanctions over the coming months, certainly not without further efforts to bring the Iranians around,” the letter said.

“The Iranians ... will need to know that more serious measures are likely. This means putting the Iran dossier onto a Chapter VII basis” — shorthand for binding Security Council resolutions, including sanctions, that can be enforced by military means.

The letter also suggests making suspension of all uranium enrichment by Iran “a mandatory requirement of the Security Council, in a resolution we would aim to adopt, I say, early May.”

“In return for the Russians and Chinese agreeing to this, we would then want to put together a package that could be presented to the Iranians as a new proposal,” the letter said. “Ideally this would have the explicit backing of Russia, China and the United States as well as the EU-3” — France, Britain and Germany.

Neither diplomat had details on what the new incentives would look like.

Regime-change fears in balance
But any talks with U.S. involvement likely would need to focus on economic and security guarantees meant to reassure Tehran that Washington has no plans to force a regime change. Critics of U.S. policy have maintained for years that Tehran was unlikely to compromise on its nuclear program without such a direct guarantee.

In Washington, German lawmaker Ruprecht Polenz said “we would really love it” if the United States participated in the process.

The six countries agree that Iran should not develop nuclear weapons, but they differ on the best way to get Tehran to halt uranium enrichment, which can be used either in a civilian nuclear program to generate electricity or to produce nuclear arms.

Russia and China have said tough council action could spark an Iranian withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and eventually lead to tougher measures, such as sanctions.

The United States, Britain and France want a statement listing demands already made by the IAEA — including the suspension of uranium enrichment and steps toward greater transparency and more cooperation. They also want IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei to report to the council on Iran’s progress in meeting those demands in two weeks, which Russia and China say is much too soon.

Negotiations between Iran and France, Germany and Britain, acting on behalf of the European Union, collapsed in August after Tehran rejected an incentives package offered in return for a permanent end to uranium enrichment. Its subsequent moves to develop full-blown enrichment capabilities led the IAEA’s 35-nation board to ask for Security Council involvement earlier this year.