Reuters: Western powers have quietly put off efforts to toughen United Nations sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program until September in hopes of improved cooperation with U.N. inspectors, European diplomats say. By Paul Taylor
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Western powers have quietly put off efforts to toughen United Nations sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program until September in hopes of improved cooperation with U.N. inspectors, European diplomats say.
The unannounced pause comes even though Tehran continues to defy U.N. demands that it suspend uranium enrichment, which the West believes is aimed at building bombs, and is still adding centrifuges to its new underground enrichment plant, they say.
Tehran, however, resumed working with the U.N. watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency this month to clear up outstanding questions about its nuclear activity and improve IAEA inspectors’ access to its enrichment plant.
It also agreed to let inspectors revisit a heavy-water reactor building site before the end of July, four months after halting such access in protest at existing U.N. sanctions.
“This is not to be sniffed at, though it does not meet our core demand for full suspension,” one European diplomat said.
“But I do not think our core demands are achievable under present circumstances,” he said.
Diplomats said there were several reasons for the delay: the U.N. Security Council is busy with Kosovo and Darfur, the United States is preoccupied by fierce debate over its military role in Iraq, Russia is resisting further sanctions and diplomatic activity is slowing for the summer holiday season.
In addition, the IAEA director says Iran’s gesture of an “action plan” to address suspicions its nuclear program has military goals, combined with a slowdown in the expansion of its uranium enrichment, have raised hopes of defusing the standoff.
Tehran has threatened to withdraw this cooperation if the West moves to pass another sanctions resolution.
Iran says it is refining uranium only to generate more electricity and allow it to export more of its bountiful oil.
The European diplomats said EU and Iranian negotiators continued to hold regular official-level contacts.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana might hold another meeting with Iranian national security chief Ali Larijani this month, they said, if there was progress on the IAEA track.
Solana is empowered by six big powers — the United States, Russia, Britain, France and Germany — to explore ways to start negotiations on a package of economic and political incentives if Iran agreed to suspend uranium enrichment.
The European diplomats said U.S. financial sanctions against Tehran and pressure on European governments were having a greater impact than the limited U.N. measures by drying up trade credit and restricting Iran’s access to the dollar economy.
One EU diplomat said trade between Iran and Germany had fallen by more than 20 percent in the last year.
“Financial sanctions are biting, but they hurt the business community and not directly the nuclear decision-makers, who are mainly clergy and the military,” he said.
Vienna diplomats familiar with IAEA operations said there appeared to have been some progress in efforts to have Iran cooperate with IAEA inquiries ongoing since 2003.
They said Iran had also agreed to accredit five of 10 inspectors the IAEA proposed to help replace 38 from Western states barred early this year, and to finalize arrangements for improved IAEA monitoring of the Natanz plant.
“Up to now, Iran has not allowed inspectors to walk around inside the centrifuge hall or take photographs there. That would be important for establishing confidence in Iran’s intentions,” said a Western diplomat.
Asked whether such steps, together with a slowdown in expanding enrichment capacity would take a third sanctions resolution off the table, one EU diplomat in Vienna said:
“We are coming to a situation where five out of the six (powers) would support further talks, and only one would insist on a complete suspension before talking. In that case, the U.S. would play into Iranian hands.”