Reuters: Germany and France said on Thursday Iran’s nuclear program was still a threat and the search for more U.N. sanctions should go on despite a U.S. intelligence report that Tehran was no longer trying to build an atomic bomb. By Francois Murphy
PARIS (Reuters) – Germany and France said on Thursday Iran’s nuclear program was still a threat and the search for more U.N. sanctions should go on despite a U.S. intelligence report that Tehran was no longer trying to build an atomic bomb.
EU and NATO foreign ministers, meeting for separate talks in Brussels, agreed there was no reason to change their position of threatening sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, Belgian Foreign Affairs Minister Karel de Gucht said.
Speaking at a joint news conference with French President Nicolas Sarkozy in Paris, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the existing dual track policy of preparing sanctions against Tehran while leaving the door open to negotiations should go on.
“I think that we are in a process and that Iran still poses a threat,” Merkel said, adding that talks between EU mediator Javier Solana and Iran’s top nuclear negotiator should continue.
Sarkozy said he fully agreed with Merkel, adding: “What has made Iran move until now is sanctions and firmness.”
The U.S. National Intelligence Estimate published on Monday said Iran had stopped its nuclear weapons program four years ago. It said Iran was continuing to develop the technical means that could be applied to producing weapons.
The report appears likely to increase resistance from Russia and China to U.S. demands for a third round of United Nations sanctions against Iran over its atomic program.
Russia has said the report is a factor that will be taken into account in negotiations over sanctions, and the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, said the NIE report “somewhat vindicated” Iran.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in Brussels for meetings with NATO ministers, urged Russia to help maintain pressure on Iran.
EU, NATO CONSENSUS
Belgium’s De Gucht said there was consensus among EU and NATO foreign ministers to keep the two-pronged approach in place.
He said Iran’s work on uranium enrichment made no sense unless it was part of a plan to produce nuclear weapons. De Gucht said it did not mean Iran had decided to make nuclear arms, but once it had fissile material, it could be done in a reasonable amount of time.
Because of international concerns that Iran is secretly pursuing nuclear weapons, the U.N. Security Council has imposed two rounds of sanctions against Tehran and demanded that it halt uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for power plants or, potentially, atom bombs.
Iran says it only wants to generate electricity and has a national right to uranium enrichment.
Washington has said it would keep pushing for a third round of sanctions.
U.S. deputy director of National Intelligence, Donald Kerr, told Congress on Thursday that Iran retained capabilities despite having frozen weapons development in 2003, and there was reason to believe Iran still wanted an ability to make nuclear weapons.
(Additional reporting by Elizabeth Pineau in Paris, David Brunnstrom and Sue Pleming in Brussels and Randall Mikkelsen in Washington; Editing by Caroline Drees)