Cracks show as top world powers warn Iran

Date: 03-30-06

BERLIN (AFP) - The world's top powers have banded together to warn a defiant Iran against pursuing sensitive nuclear research but Russia and China ruled out using sanctions or force.

The meeting of the United Nations Security Council permanent members plus Germany in Berlin came after the council unanimously approved a non-binding statement Wednesday giving Iran 30 days to abandon its uranium enrichment activities, ending a weeks-long impasse.

"This is a strong sign to Iran that negotiation not confrontation should be their course," US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday.

"It is now up to Iran to make a choice ... between isolation brought about by its own actions or a return to the negotiating table," added German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the meeting's host.

Iran gave a defiant response to the UN statement, refusing to halt uranium enrichment work despite the intensified international pressure.

"Iran's decision on enrichment, particularly research and development is irreversible," Iranian ambassador Aliasghar Soltanieh in Vienna told AFP.

And Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki described the declaration as an "angry precedent" and a "bad move".

The UN statement leaves open what consequences might follow if Tehran refuses to comply, and Russia and China insisted that economic sanctions or military action did not belong on the table.

"Russia does not believe that sanctions would serve the purpose of settling the various issues," Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov said.

And in a clear warning against any the use of force to settle the standoff, Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo said that any such move would unleash chaos in the region.

"The Chinese side feels there has already been enough turmoil in the Middle East and we do not want to see more turmoil introduced into the region," he said.

The UN talks had been marred by differences between the United States and its Western allies on the one hand and Russia and China on the other over how to coax Tehran away from uranium enrichment, which could be used to build a nuclear bomb.

The statement that finally prevailed is a watered-down version of a Franco-British statement that calls on Iran to meet demands from the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

It expresses clear concern that Iran is trying to acquire nuclear weapons secretly, demands that Iran comply with the wishes of the IAEA governing board and calls for an IAEA report within 30 days.

The non-binding UN Security Council declaration was seen as a bid to placate Russia and China, which have opposed any hint of punitive measures against Iran, an ally and key trading partner.

In a further concession, the co-sponsors extended the deadline to 30 days from the 14 days they had initially sought.

Besides Rice, Lavrov, Steinmeier and Dai, the working lunch in Berlin brought together Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of Britain, Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy of France and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

Washington and European powers believe Iran has ambitions of building a nuclear bomb, which they argue would destabilize the entire region.

Tehran vehemently denies the charge and says its nuclear program is purely peaceful.

It is unclear how the crisis will unfold if Iran refuses to buckle before the 30 day deadline is up.

Mottaki, speaking to the UN Conference on Disarmament in Geneva said, Iran would formally offer to set up a "regional consortium" to enrich fuel for its nuclear program, implying that it would be set up in Iran.

Britain, France and Germany -- known as the EU-3 -- pursued three years of inconclusive negotiations to convince Tehran to stand down on its nuclear program in exchange for economic incentives.

Diplomacy has reached a critical point since Tehran announced in January it was resuming sensitive research on uranium enrichment that it had suspended for two years.


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