Iran Nuclear NewsBritain Backs Penalties if Iran Restarts Nuclear Program

Britain Backs Penalties if Iran Restarts Nuclear Program

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New York Times: As the European Union warned Iran against resuming its nuclear program, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Thursday that Britain would support American moves to invoke United Nations Security Council countermeasures “if Iran breaches its obligations and undertakings.” New York Times

By ALAN COWELL

LONDON – As the European Union warned Iran against resuming its nuclear program, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Thursday that Britain would support American moves to invoke United Nations Security Council countermeasures “if Iran breaches its obligations and undertakings.”

The threats reflected increasing worries among European leaders that Iran might revive nuclear enrichment activities suspended since last November, a move the Europeans are eager to forestall.

Mr. Blair spoke at a news conference a day after the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany – the European countries negotiating with Iran on behalf of the 25-nation European Union – sent a letter to Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rowhani, warning that any resumption of nuclear work “would bring the negotiating process to an end.” If the negotiations fail, the dispute will be referred to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna and thereafter to the Security Council, an official in the British Foreign Office said. “The Iranians are fully aware of the implications of any decision to resume the nuclear program,” the official said. Under Foreign Office rules, officials speak on condition that they not be identified by name.

The European foreign ministers’ letter, which was also signed by Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, offers Iran high-level negotiations with European foreign ministers within two weeks to seek a way out of the impasse.

Two European diplomats said Thursday that a meeting could take place next week, possibly in Tehran. The letter said, “We welcome Iran’s continued voluntary suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, and emphasize that sustaining the suspension, while negotiations are under way, is essential for the continuation of the overall process” of negotiation agreed in discussions last year.

In recent days, Iranian officials have suggested that the country is on the brink of reactivating one of the plants where uranium enrichment was suspended last November.

The United States says Iran is developing a nuclear weapons program – a suspicion shared by the European Union. But Iran maintains its program is intended to develop nuclear power generating stations.

Mr. Rowhani, the Iranian negotiator, said Wednesday that Iran would resume part of its “enrichment activities in the near future,” Reuters reported. But in remarks on Thursday after meeting with Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Kislyak, Mr. Rowhani did not allude to a date for the resumption of enrichment activities.

Another British Foreign Office official said Thursday that European negotiators believed that Iran had written its own letter, for delivery to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, formally stating its intention to resume enrichment.

“We are working on the assumption that it will be handed over and will declare their intention,” the official said.

If that happens, “it’s a whole new ballgame,” the official said.

In Vienna, Melissa Fleming, a spokeswoman for the International Atomic Energy Agency, said Thursday that the agency had “not received not any official notification from Iran regarding their intention to restart the conversion facility.”

At the news conference in London Mr. Blair was asked whether he would support the American-led drive to seek Security Council penalties for Iran. Until now, the Europeans have favored incentives, including potential trade deals, to prevent the Iranians from developing a program that they say is their sovereign right.

“We certainly will support referral to the United Nations Security Council if Iran breaches its obligations and undertakings,” Mr. Blair said.

But he qualified his remarks by saying, “Quite how that will come about we have got to work out with our colleagues and allies, but those international rules are there for a reason, and they’ve got to be adhered to.”

Responding to a question about the possibility of American military action against Iran, Mr. Blair said, “We have got to make sure this diplomatic process works, and we’ll fight very hard to do that.” Britain was the United States’ steadfast Western ally in the invasion of Iraq, but Mr. Blair’s support of President Bush and his handling of the period leading to the war cost him dearly in last week’s election. The news conference was Mr. Blair’s first since then.

The letter to Iran, the contents of which were first reported Thursday in The Washington Post, said European officials were “concerned by the statements made by a number of senior Iranian officials suggesting that some activities covered by the voluntary suspension might soon be restarted.”

“Iran should be in no doubt that any such change to the suspension would be a clear breach” of earlier agreements, the letter said. “It would bring the negotiating process to an end. The consequences could only be negative for Iran.”

In the letter, the Europeans said they were “ready for further discussions in the field of nuclear fuel supply for Iran’s power generation program.”

“We are also ready to discuss further a political and security framework.”

Jack Straw, the British foreign secretary, said Thursday that Iran would lose benefits secured in previous negotiations if it resumed nuclear activities.

“Those unquestionably will be lost because they were part of the negotiations taking part in the context in which Iran had agreed to maintain its suspension of uranium enrichment and related activity,” Mr. Straw said in a radio interview.

“The problem is that what is incontrovertible is that there is a 20-year history of them failing to disclose aspects of their activities,” he said.

And in Paris, Cécile Pozzo di Borgo, a French Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, urged Iran to refrain from resuming its nuclear activities and said France supported continued discussions.

In Tehran, the supreme religious leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, warned Western countries on Thursday against “bullying” Iran. But in much more conciliatory remarks, President Mohammad Khatami said Iran expected its talks with Britain, France and Germany to become more serious.

“We expect to get out of this indecisive situation in the talks with our European friends,” he said. “These talks must not become an excuse to delay Iran’s activities and eventually deprive us from mastering peaceful nuclear technology.”

“We have clearly stated our demands and if our European friends look at them objectively and beyond external pressures, we must be able to reach a logical solution,” he added.

Hélène Fouquet contributed reporting from Paris for this article, and Nazila Fathi from Tehran.

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