AFP: Senior diplomats from six world powers urged Iran on Wednesday to accept their offer of direct talks on its nuclear programme, a senior German diplomat said after a meeting near Frankfurt.
By Simon Sturdee
BERLIN (AFP) — Senior diplomats from six world powers urged Iran on Wednesday to accept their offer of direct talks on its nuclear programme, a senior German diplomat said after a meeting near Frankfurt.
The political directors from the UN Security Council's five permanent members — the US, China, Russia, Britain and France — plus Germany and the EU called for talks "on the basis of mutual respect," the diplomat said.
"We also confirmed a two-pronged strategy (of incentives and punitive measures) and agreed to come together again on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York," the diplomat said.
"I would like to see Iran accept the offer for talks issued in April in time for the UN General Assembly," which takes place September 23-30, the diplomat added.
The P5+1 gathering comes after a UN atomic agency report last week said that Iran had slowed production of enriched uranium — useable in nuclear power but also weapons — and had agreed to tighter monitoring of its enrichment plant.
Iran insists its nuclear work is peaceful but Western countries suspect that Tehran wants atomic weapons. The UN Security Council has slapped three rounds of sanctions on the country, and pressure is growing for more.
A day ahead of the gathering in Germany, Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili was quoted as saying that Tehran had updated its package of proposals and was ready for fresh talks.
But the White House said it had no official notification from Iran on any new proposals, stressing that the P5+1 powers had made an offer in April to Iran on face-to-face talks, but had received no response.
"They know our number. We hope that the press reports will be followed by something substantial," German foreign ministry spokesman Jens Ploetner said.
The EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana said on Wednesday that he too had received nothing.
Washington also downplayed the IAEA report, saying Iran was still not cooperating fully with the UN inspectors.
Barack Obama offered an "extended hand" if Iran's leaders "unclenched their fist" after becoming US president in January, but Washington has given Iran a September deadline to take up the offer of talks or face new sanctions.
France, Germany and Britain have meanwhile been upping the ante, with President Nicolas Sarkozy and Chancellor Angela Merkel on Monday saying they wanted harsher sanctions if Iran failed to engage.
If Iran is not interested in talks, "we will of course have to discuss in September, including in Pittsburgh (at the G20 summit on September 24-25), further sanctions," Merkel said.
"The region and the world have nothing to fear from a civilian nuclear programme in Iran, but Iran's actions do not make their arguments convincing," British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said last week.
But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov stressed this week that tensions on Iran could only be resolved by "a political-diplomatic solution."
"The best means to apply outside pressure on Iran's decision-making process lie not in isolating Tehran or threats of resorting to force, but in involving it in an important international cooperation," Lavrov said.
A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman said: "We are ready to work with the other parties to promote the early resumption of dialogue and negotiations to seek a comprehensive, enduring and proper settlement."
An analyst at the German Council on Foreign Relations (DGAP), Anthony Seaboyer, told AFP he thought that further sanctions were "likely", with North Korea's second nuclear test in May creating "new momentum."
He added however that the sanctions already in place would be sufficient if Russia and China were doing their bit to implement them.
"Russia and China are absolutely essential in this … What we have to do is work much more closely with Russia and China to convince them to share our perception on the necessity to really act on this issue," he said.