Iran Nuclear NewsEurope to press Iran leader on nuclear issue

Europe to press Iran leader on nuclear issue

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Reuters: Leaders of the three major European powers are expected to meet Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday in what could be a last-ditch effort to avert a showdown over Tehran’s nuclear activities. Reuters

By Carol Giacomo

UNITED NATIONS – Leaders of the three major European powers are expected to meet Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Thursday in what could be a last-ditch effort to avert a showdown over Tehran’s nuclear activities.

The meeting — described as 90 percent certain — would be an opportunity for the leaders of Britain, France and Germany to “test the temperature of Iran’s new leadership” on the nuclear issue and fulfils the trio’s commitment to dialogue with Iran, a European diplomat said.

The discussion, on the fringes of a U.N. summit, comes at a critical time ahead of next week’s meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) 35-member board of directors whose focus is a U.S.-European Union proposal to refer Iran’s case to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

The United States and the EU three are preparing to square off against IAEA Director Mohammed ElBaradei, Russia, Iran and poor non-aligned countries, with ElBaradei trying to broker a delay in a referral.

ElBaradei, fearful that a referral would split the Security Council, would rather set a new deadline for Iran to halt sensitive work, diplomats said.

French Prime Minister Dominique De Villepin on Wednesday threatened Iran with a U.N. referral despite the misgivings of the U.N. atomic watchdog agency.

“In the nuclear sphere, we have put our trust in the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA),” where there are rights to uphold and duties to enforce, he told a U.N. Security Council meeting.

“If a state fails in its obligations under the (Nuclear) Non-proliferation Treaty, it is legitimate, once dialogue has been exhausted, to refer it to the Security Council,” he said.

The EU three joined forces with Washington to back a Council referral after Tehran resumed sensitive nuclear activities at its Isfahan uranium processing plant last month.

Work had been suspended under a November deal with the EU.

“Everybody is looking for a solution that would avoid confrontation … (A) quick decision now would create a deep division in the (IAEA) board,” one diplomat said.

The EU trio says it will not seek immediate sanctions and only gradually increase pressure on Iran, and EU diplomats said Wednesday nothing would be gained by delaying referral.

Robert Einhorn, the Clinton administration’s former top non-proliferation official, said the Europeans must support U.N. referral to maintain their credibility.

“The European foreign ministers threatened in writing to take the issue to New York if Iran resumed conversion at Ishfahan. If they fail now to get the issue moved to New York, then future European threats and warnings will carry no weight whatsoever,” said Einhorn, now senior adviser at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies.

Tehran denies wanting atom bombs and says the West would abridge Iran’s right to a full nuclear energy program. To undercut that argument, U.S. President George W. Bush on Tuesday publicly endorsed Iran’s right to peaceful nuclear power.

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