EU ministers duck Iran nuclear issue for now

Iran's nuclear programme has slipped so far down the European Union's agenda that it did not even figure at a two-day brainstorming session of the bloc's 27 foreign ministers this week.

EU ministers duck Iran nuclear issue for now
Diplomats said the absence of discussion of what the United States sees as one of the main threats to international security does not mean the issue had fallen off Europe's radar screen.

But EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who has held long-running nuclear talks with Iran's national security chief, Ali Larijani, has taken a back seat while the U.N. atomic watchdog and Tehran seek to clear up outstanding questions on the Iranian uranium enrichment programme.

"Iran is on hold for the moment," one EU diplomat said.

By threatening to end cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency if the West moves to tighten U.N. sanctions against it, Tehran has effectively stymied Western moves to increase pressure for now, European diplomats said.

Solana told Reuters the EU's twin-track policy of extending a hand for cooperation if Iran suspends its most sensitive nuclear work while maintaining pressure through the U.N. Security Council had not changed.

He said he remained in telephone contact with Larijani, but acknowledged: "Iran has been engaged in negotiation with Vienna, with the (nuclear) agency."

Iran meanwhile continues to add centrifuges and enrich uranium in defiance of U.N. resolutions at its underground plant at Natanz, which the West suspects is intended to fuel a nuclear bomb. The IAEA says progress is slower than Tehran asserts.

GUSTO DIMINISHED

The United States has begun to signal impatience with the Europeans' patience with Iran.

EU officials say recent newspaper reports that Washington is considering declaring the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps a terrorist organisation and cracking down on European companies accused of undermining U.S. financial sanctions were probably warning signs from hawks in the Bush administration.

They noted that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had kept quiet about Iran in recent weeks.

A senior European diplomat in Vienna said it would be hard to get a consensus on a tougher sanctions resolution as long as the Iran-IAEA work plan had a chance of success.

"The Chinese and Russians will say, let's take 2-3 months and see, let's not destroy this opportunity ... So whether you like it or not, a situation has been created where the gusto for going to the Security Council has diminished," he said.

An EU official said there was little appetite among European countries for harsher economic sanctions and the focus was more on implementing existing measures effectively.

New French President Nicolas Sarkozy struck what some interpreted as a tougher tone on Iran last week when he raised the possibility that Iran might have to be bombed as a last resort alternative to it acquiring a nuclear weapon.

The newspaper Le Monde reported after that speech that Paris would be prepared to consider further sanctions against Iran outside the U.N. framework if the Security Council was deadlocked. France has not officially confirmed such a shift.

Reuters
Last Mod: 08 Eylül 2007, 15:13
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