04/13/2006, 00.00
IRAN
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Diplomatic flurry to cool off Iranian nuclear standoff

El-Baradei is in Tehran. Chinese official is due in Russia and Iran. The United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany will meet on April 18 in Moscow. According to Stratfor, the Iranians just want to see their interests in Iraq respected.

Tehran (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Diplomatic activity is in overdrive after Tehran announced that it successfully enriched uranium to make nuclear fuel, which the United States, Russia, China and European powers described as a "step in the wrong direction".

Mohamed el-Baradei, director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, is in Tehran to "hold consultations [. . .] on the continuation of Iran's constructive interaction and cooperation with the IAEA," reports Iranian official news agency IRNA. It is el-Baradei's fifth visit to Iran.

"I am hopeful the time is right for political solutions, through negotiations. I hope conditions will be created for all parties to return to talks," the head of the UN atomic watchdog said.

But yesterday Iranian President Ahmadinejad said that the situation had changed completely and that as a member of the club of nuclear countries Iran was going to deal with other countries as a nuclear state. "We will not hold talks with anyone about the Iranian nation's right [to enrichment]", he said.

Still, Russia and China are relying on el-Baradei to convince Iran to accept UN demands and end its uranium enrichment programme, but, unlike the US, Great Britain and France, they remain opposed to international sanctions, not to mention rumoured US plans to take out Iran's nuclear sites.

China's Foreign Ministry announced today in Beijing that one of its senior arms control officials, Assistant Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai, will be making a 'working' visit to Iran and Russia on April 14-18.

"We expressed our concern. We are worried about these developments. We hope the parties should exercise restraint and not take any actions that lead to further escalation so we can solve the question properly through dialogue and diplomacy," spokesman Liu Jianchao said.

The United States and Great Britain said instead that if Iran did not comply with the Security Council's demand to stop enrichment by April 28 they will seek a council resolution that would make the demand compulsory.

China's UN Ambassador Wang Guangya said the six nations that have been trying to find a solution to Iran's nuclear ambitions, namely the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, will meet April 18 in Moscow on the sidelines of the Group of Eight summit.

According to Stratfor, a strategic forecasting and intelligence analysis company, Tehran's real goal in trumpeting its nuclear progress is recognition as a regional power and its right to protect its interests in neighbouring Iraq.

For Stratfor, several factors point in that direction. First, there is timing. The announcement was delivered on the anniversary of the prophet Mohammed's birthday in a public ceremony with dancing and singing and a CNN crew present, an unlikely accident since Iran has been seeking to emphasise its credentials as a leader of the Muslim world.

Secondly, whilst the situation of Iraqi Shiites is not ideal for the Iranians, Iran has offered to conduct joint military exercises and ink a nonaggression pact with other countries in the region.

As for talks with Washington, they will have to wait until a new government is formed in Iraq; in the meantime, Tehran wants to make sure that its national interests in that country are protected.

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