The Guardian: Iran came under concerted international pressure yesterday to back off from a confrontation with the west over its nuclear programmes as Europe’s main powers sought to salvage an ambitious mediation effort.
An emergency meeting of the 35-strong board of the UN nuclear authority, the International Atomic Energy Agency, convened in Vienna to try to plot a path out of a dangerous impasse. The Guardian
Pressure grows to issue Tehran with 10-day ultimatum
Ian Traynor in Vienna
Iran came under concerted international pressure yesterday to back off from a confrontation with the west over its nuclear programmes as Europe’s main powers sought to salvage an ambitious mediation effort.
An emergency meeting of the 35-strong board of the UN nuclear authority, the International Atomic Energy Agency, convened in Vienna to try to plot a path out of a dangerous impasse. Russia, unusually, joined Britain, France, and Germany as well as the US and the IAEA chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, in appealing to Iran to restore a climate of confidence by halting the nuclear activities it relaunched on Monday.
The resumption of uranium conversion outside the southern city of Isfahan broke a pact reached with Britain, France and Germany last November and brought two years of negotiations on the nuclear dispute to a head.
The Europeans are threatening to “terminate the dialogue” if the Iranians do not back down.
But, amid deepening pessimism and signs of a more hardline stance from the new Iranian regime of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, it appeared that both sides – Iran and the EU – had boxed themselves in.
“It’s hard to see where the EU goes from here,” said a diplomat attending the meeting. “And the Iranians’ response to the EU offers was so insulting that it does not seem they are going to back down either.”
The IAEA session was called by the EU trio, despite the opposition of Dr ElBaradei, after Tehran spurned a detailed package of political, trade and nuclear benefits from the Europeans at the weekend, then ended its freeze on uranium processing and called the EU’s bluff on how to respond. Diplomats said the severity of the Iranian response on Monday and of a letter it delivered last week suggested a much less conciliatory line had been decided by the new administration.
Mr Ahmadinejad told the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, yesterday that he had unspecified proposals on how to break the nuclear deadlock and salvage the negotiations.
The US president, George Bush, welcomed Mr Ahmadinejad’s statement as a positive sign but said he remained deeply suspicious over Tehran’s intentions.
“It is important for the Iranians to understand that America stands squarely with the EU3, that we feel strongly the Iranians need to adhere to the agreements made in the Paris accord and that we will be willing to work with our partners and deal with appropriate consequences should they ignore the demand,” he told reporters in Texas.
Yesterday’s meeting was delayed by five hours as the EU trio lobbied frantically for support and sought to redraft a resolution warning the Iranians in a way that retained the support of the 35 board members.
Germany was insisting that any form of words agreed had to have consensus backing.
While diplomats said the Iranians would ratchet up the tension further today by having UN seals broken at nuclear equipment in Isfahan, the Europeans were seeking support for issuing a 10-day ultimatum to the Iranians.
Sources said Peter Jenkins, the chief British delegate, had told the closed session that Dr ElBaradei should report to the board within 10 days on whether the Iranians had halted operations in Isfahan. If not, a further emergency IAEA meeting could be summoned which could decide to refer the dispute to the UN security council in New York and it could decide on sanctions against Iran.
Almost all members of the board except the Americans would prefer to avoid shifting the dispute to New York and it was unclear if the ultimatum would win the backing of the board.
Dr ElBaradei is against setting a 10-day deadline. “Deadlines are not really very productive,” said a European diplomat in the negotiations.