Iran Nuclear NewsCampaign to curb Iran's nuclear plans on the verge...

Campaign to curb Iran’s nuclear plans on the verge of collapse

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Daily Telegraph: The West’s diplomatic campaign to curb Iran’s nuclear programme was in danger of collapsing last night as America and Europe struggled to find allies at the United Nations Security Council. Daily Telegraph

By Francis Harris at the United Nations and Anton La Guardia, Diplomatic Editor

The West’s diplomatic campaign to curb Iran’s nuclear programme was in danger of collapsing last night as America and Europe struggled to find allies at the United Nations Security Council.

At the same time Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran’s hardline new president, appeared to taunt the West when he insisted that Teheran was ready to share its nuclear know-how with other Muslim countries.

The rout of reformists in Teheran and the election of Mr Ahmadinejad – as well as America’s problems in Iraq and the rise in oil prices – appear to have emboldened Teheran.

Mr Ahmadinejad raised the stakes last night when he said: “The Islamic Republic never seeks weapons of mass destruction and with respect to the needs of Islamic countries, we are ready to transfer nuclear know-how to these countries.”

He did not specify what technology Iran was ready to pass on, but even the hint of nuclear weapons proliferation in the Middle East will alarm the West and Israel.

Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, and his French and German colleagues from the “EU-3” were due last night to meet Mr Ahmadinejad. But after two years of painstaking diplomacy – belatedly supported by the United States – Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, earlier set the stage for possible failure of attempts to bring Iran to heel.

She admitted that a campaign to convince the governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency to refer Iran to the Security Council next week was floundering despite Iran’s decision to renege on a promise to freeze its controversial uranium enrichment facilities, which the West fears could be used to make fissile material for atomic bombs.

After a warning from the IAEA, America and key European countries threatened to have Iran referred to the Security Council unless Iran halted the work. But despite lobbying in the margins of the United Nations summit this week, by President Bush and Tony Blair among others, Miss Rice said: “If we get a referral (at the meeting) on September 19, that will be good, but I think the issue of a referral is something that we’ll be working on for a while.”

British officials admit that their credibility is on the line after making repeated threats. Moreover, they said a change in the composition of the IAEA board of governors at the end of the month will make it harder to secure referral to the Security Council in future.

Iran says it only wants to develop a nuclear industry to generate electricity. However, the West is convinced the clerical regime wants to develop a nuclear bomb.

The approaching vote at the IAEA in Vienna has generated frantic behind-the-scenes lobbying in New York.

American diplomats have been showing members of the agency’s 35-nation board a presentation including satellite photos of Iran’s facilities which are compared with known nuclear weapons installations elsewhere.

Reports suggest it is having little effect on the swing voters needed to achieve a security council referral. That is partly because of the Iranian counter-campaign.

Teheran is believed to have pointed out to energy-hungry countries like China and Japan that it could cut their supply of oil.

One western diplomat engaged in the talks said there was also a “distinct air of cold feet” among undecided nations like Nigeria, South Korea, South Africa, Brazil and Mexico. President Bush has spoken to China’s president, Hu Jintao, about Iran and today meets Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, to discuss the issue.

But neither country is thought ready yet to commit to a Security Council referral.

• Toby Helm at the United Nations writes: At a joint press conference last night Mr Blair and Bob Geldof told world leaders that a failure to agree sweeping measures on trade liberalisation within three months would have disastrous effects on the fight against poverty.

Mr Geldof said the UN meeting had achieved “disappointing” conclusions on trade.

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