Iran Nuclear NewsRussia and China demand Iran freeze nuclear activity, but...

Russia and China demand Iran freeze nuclear activity, but reject referral to U.N.


New York Times: Russia and China affirmed Monday that Iran must resume its freeze on certain nuclear activities, but refused a call by the Americans and the Europeans for the issue to be put before the United Nations Security Council, according to the British Foreign Office and senior European officials. New York Times


PARIS, Jan. 16 – Russia and China affirmed Monday that Iran must resume its freeze on certain nuclear activities, but refused a call by the Americans and the Europeans for the issue to be put before the United Nations Security Council, according to the British Foreign Office and senior European officials.

In one conciliatory gesture, Russia and China agreed not to block a move by France, Britain and Germany to convene a special session early next month of the 35 nations that make up the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, according to the officials. At that time, the nations could decide whether Iran should be referred to the Security Council for possible censure.

The Russian and Chinese positions were laid out during five hours of high-level talks in London that brought together the five permanent members of the Security Council – the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain – and Germany in an effort to forge a common position after Iran’s resumption last week of nuclear work at three sites.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because of the normal diplomatic constraints of their governments.

Statements on Monday from both Moscow and Beijing underscored the difference with the Europeans.

In Moscow, President Vladimir V. Putin emphasized that Russia, the other European nations and the United States have “very close positions on the Iranian problem,” but warned that the crisis should be resolved “without abrupt, erroneous steps.”

In a joint news conference with Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, on her first visit to Moscow since taking office, Mr. Putin urged caution, saying, “We must move very carefully in this area.”

Mr. Putin also signaled that a Russian-led initiative to enrich Iran’s uranium in Russia under Russian control might still offer a way out of the crisis.

Iran, which had seemed to reject the Russian proposal as inadequate, has expressed renewed interest in it in recent days. “We consider it constructive and are carefully studying it,” Iran’s ambassador to Moscow, Gholamreza Ansari, said on Russian television. “This is a good initiative to resolve the situation. We believe that Iran and Russia should find a way out of this jointly.”

In Beijing, the Chinese Foreign Ministry also emphasized the need for negotiations, not confrontation, saying in a statement, “China believes that under the current situation, all relevant sides should remain restrained and stick to solving the Iranian nuclear issue through negotiations.”

The rush of diplomacy reflects the growing urgency of managing the relationship with Iran.

“This was a meeting to feel each other out,” said a senior official involved in the London talks. “I don’t think our positions are that far apart. Everyone agrees we must agree; the question now is what will we agree on. Now is the time to start an intense negotiating process to persuade countries of the board to proceed by consensus.”

Asked about the Russian and Chinese position on a referral of Iran to the Security Council , the official replied, “That is certainly not something that is agreed to at the moment.”

Both Russia and China have close economic and military partnerships with Iran and historically have preferred engagement with Iran as a way of moderating its behavior and opposed any action in the Security Council.

China is particularly reluctant to use the Security Council against Iran, saying last week that such action could complicate the issue and harden positions.

But Iran’s recent behavior, combined with its history of concealment of its nuclear activities, has eroded confidence in assertions that its nuclear activities are intended for peaceful energy purposes and not for a weapons program.

There is a growing support for the position that Iran’s case should come before the Security Council, if only to register condemnation of the Tehran government.

The seriousness of the London talks was reflected by the seniority of their delegations. R. Nicholas Burns, the under secretary of state for political affairs, led the American delegation. The Russians sent Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak, a top nuclear negotiator; the Chinese sent Zhang Yan, the director of arms control at the Foreign Ministry.

The United States, which has long been pressing for Iran to be judged by the Security Council, was particularly eager to push forward quickly, before Iran succeeds in dividing the international community.

En route to Liberia on Monday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she wanted the governing countries of the atomic energy agency to meet “as soon as possible,” adding that the problem with waiting is that the Iranians will “try to take advantage of it to start to throw chaff now and to obfuscate.”

Still, the diplomatic initiative is remarkable in that Britain, France and Germany – the three nations that forged a nuclear agreement with Iran in November 2004 under which it froze most of its nuclear activities – are now in lock step with the United States.

But the United States and the Europeans need time to conduct a global diplomatic offensive to win the maximum support from the atomic energy agency’s board, a sort of mega-Security Council that includes countries as diverse as Syria, Libya, Brazil, Venezuela, Malaysia, Canada, Cuba and India, as well as the permanent Council members.

The international atomic agency usually makes decisions by consensus, but Iran could be referred to the Security Council if a majority votes in favor, no country votes against and the rest abstain.

The European trio had been negotiating with Iran for two and a half years as part of a plan to entice it with economic and political incentives in exchange for objective guarantees that it was not trying to produce a nuclear bomb. The Europeans have been operating with the support of the European Union and even of the Bush administration, despite its conviction that Iran was trying to become a nuclear power.

Iran was not punished last August after it restarted operations at its uranium conversion site in Isfahan. Even though it violated the accord with the European trio, the operations were not considered sufficiently sensitive to prompt a united retaliatory response.

Last September, the I.A.E.A . board found Iran in violation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty because of its deception of the agency dating back nearly two decades. The resolution passed at the time cited the “absence of confidence” that Iran’s nuclear program was exclusively for peaceful purposes.

But the board was deeply divided about whether to punish Iran and decided not to vote on whether to refer Iran to the Security Council.

When Iran broke the seals on machines at its uranium enrichment facility at Natanz and two related storage and testing locations and restarted nuclear work, the Europeans said it went too far, and they felt betrayed.

Last week in Berlin, foreign ministers of Britain, Germany and France, as well as Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief, agreed that their negotiations with Iran had reached a dead end and recommended that consideration of its case at the Security Council was the next step.

Reflecting that feeling of betrayal, Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of Britain told a security conference in London before the nuclear talks on Monday, “The onus is on Iran to act to give the international community confidence that its nuclear program has exclusive peaceful purposes, confidence, I’m afraid, that has been sorely undermined by its history of concealment and deception.”

Paradoxically, Iran’s renewed research activities do not constitute a breach of its treaty obligations, although they violate the voluntary deal struck with the Europeans.

Although the agency board’s member nations are becoming increasingly frustrated with Iran, there may be resistance in voting for hauling Iran before the Security Council in part because it could set a precedent for other countries with nuclear programs.

In a sign that board-member countries may have to be wooed, Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit of Egypt, a board member, issued a statement on Monday saying, “Dialogue is the best way to get out of the current crisis, and we have many factors which help towards an exit.” He added that Egypt’s vote would depend on prior consultations and on the language of draft resolutions.

The Saudi foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal bin Abdelaziz al-Saud, told the BBC on Monday that Western nations shared the blame in creating the impasse with Iran since it was the United States and its allies that helped Israel develop nuclear weapons.

“As long as you make one exception, you open the way for logical arguments of why him and not me,” Prince Saud said. “The West in allowing Israel to establish its nuclear capability has done the damage.”

Elaine Sciolino reported from Paris for this article and Alan Cowell from London.

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