01/13/2006, 00.00
IRAN

Tehran goes ahead with its N-programme as the first steps towards sanctions are taken

Summit between EU, US, Russia and China is to take place on Monday to prepare IAEA meeting on Iranian nuclear issue. Rice and Straw exclude use of force.

Tehran (AsiaNews/Agencies) – At a summit scheduled for this Monday in London, the European Union, the United States, Russia and China will meet to set a date for the meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that will discuss the Iranian nuclear programme, which can then be referred to the UN Security Council.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said over recent months he had detected "increasing impatience" with Iran internationally.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is in Washington for talks with US President George Bush, said Iran has "crossed the red line".

For her part, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the US had no option for military action against Iran "at this point". Straw agrees.

Despite all the pressures on Tehran, Iranian President Ahmadinejad said that his country would certainly pursue its nuclear programme, echoing the words of his Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who said Iran might end all of its cooperation with the IAEA if the issue was brought before the UN Security Council.

The threat is clearly linked to the decision taken by the EU3—Germany, France and Great Britain—to submit the issue to the IAEA.

Mottaki warned that should the issue come before the Security Council, the EU won't have the opportunities it now has to negotiate; under the circumstances, "the [Iranian] government will be obliged to end all of its voluntary measures".

The last sentence might not only mean the departure of IAEA inspectors but may lead to Iran's withdrawal from the protocol to the Non-proliferation Treaty it signed but not yet ratified.

Although no decision has been taken, the US and the EU seem to be on the same wavelength; a "good sign", according to Merkel.

In a statement by Foreign Minister Taro Aso, Japan added its voice to the call for Iran to be referred to the Security Council

Conversely, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan wants time. In his opinion, it is too soon to refer the dispute for Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, told him by telephone that Tehran remained "interested in serious and constructive negotiations" with the Europeans.

Although France said that it was premature to speak of sanctions against Iran, they remain the most plausible scenario and should come up in two weeks at the UN after the IAEA meeting, a position US Secretary Rice fully supports.

Russia and China are not expected to use their veto power to stop any UN move but they must still be convinced. Meanwhile, Moscow has renewed today its call on Tehran to respect the moratorium, whilst China continues to back talks between Iran and the EU.

In a press release, the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry announced that it would determine what the IAES should do after consultation with the interested parties, including the possibility of informing the Security Council.

For Taylor Fravel, a China foreign policy specialist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Beijing would certainly voice objections in private against interfering in other countries' internal affairs. Traditionally, it has always backed Iran and depends on Iranian oil supplies for 12 per cent of its needs. But when the issue is put to the vote, Beijing is unlikely to risk the reputation it has built as a responsible diplomatic power hosting six-party talks on North Korea's nuclear programmes.

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