Reuters: Iran urged the European Union on Tuesday to resume talks on its nuclear dispute with the West, drawing a chilly response from Britain and Russia. By Parisa Hafezi
TEHRAN, Jan 17 (Reuters) – Iran urged the European Union on Tuesday to resume talks on its nuclear dispute with the West, drawing a chilly response from Britain and Russia.
A senior British official dismissed as “vacuous” the Iranian offer, contained in a letter from Javad Vaeedi, deputy head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Tehran should first restore the basis for negotiations by halting the nuclear fuel research it resumed last week in defiance of world powers.
“Talks presuppose an obligation. The Iranian obligation was to stick to the moratorium,” Lavrov said. “Now Iran (has departed from) the moratorium on scientific research.”
Britain, France and Germany called off the talks last week after Tehran removed U.N. seals on uranium enrichment equipment, deepening Western suspicions that it is seeking nuclear arms.
Washington and its EU allies say it is time the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency sent Iran’s case to the U.N. Security Council, which could eventually decide to impose sanctions on Iran.
China has demurred, saying it would like talks between Iran and the EU trio to resume, but has not said it will try to block any move to report Iran to the Council.
Russia, while sharing China’s opposition to U.N. sanctions on Iran, has moved closer to the West’s view on referral.
An Iranian source in Vienna said Iran had written to the EU trio proposing that talks restart immediately and saying Tehran was ready to “remove existing ambiguities regarding its peaceful nuclear programme through talks and negotiations”.
The senior British official dismissed the offer, saying: “That is vacuous because the Iranians have created the conditions to make (further talks) impossible.”
NO IRANIAN CONCESSION
Despite Tehran’s call for talks, an Iranian official said the decision to resume nuclear fuel research was “irreversible”.
Ali Asghar Soltaniyeh, Iranian representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), also told the students news agency ISNA that he would meet the agency’s chief Mohamed ElBaradei later on Tuesday to discuss Iran’s plans.
An IAEA spokesman could not confirm a meeting was planned.
Soltaniyeh reiterated Iran’s threat to halt snap IAEA checks on its nuclear sites if its case goes to the Security Council.
The senior British official said referral to the Council would not automatically lead to punitive measures.
“We don’t see this leading straight into sanctions,” the official told reporters under condition he not be named. “We want to build gradual, sustained pressure over time.”
Lavrov also said talk of sanctions was premature.
“The question of sanctions against Iran puts the cart before the horse. Sanctions are in no way the best, or the only, way to solve the problem,” he told a news briefing.
A Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman said Beijing favoured diplomacy, urging all parties to “keep patient and make utmost efforts to resume the negotiations between the EU3 and Iran”.
Germany earlier said Council members remained at odds on the Iranian nuclear issue after Monday’s talks in London among the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.
However, participants did agree to call an emergency meeting of the IAEA board on Feb. 2 to discuss referral.
Iran’s letter also said it wanted to pursue scheduled talks with Russia over Moscow’s proposal to enrich uranium for Iran in a joint venture to prevent any diversion for military use.
“Iran believes that negotiations with Russia will continue seriously and constructively, and as planned, they will be on Feb. 16 in Moscow,” the source quoted the letter as saying.
Lavrov said Russia’s offer remained on the table. Tehran has sent mixed signals on the idea, which has EU and U.S. support.
The senior British official said he did not believe Iran was seriously considering the plan. “Iran is playing with the Russia proposal for tactical reasons,” he said.
German Deputy Foreign Minister Gernot Erler said Iran must keep its promises if it wanted more talks with the EU3.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, who plans to go to Moscow to discuss Iran on Wednesday, said his country would try to maintain international unity on the issue.
“At stake is the credibility of the agency (IAEA), the credibility of the multilateral system of non-proliferation and especially the stability of the region,” he told parliament.
Any Security Council action would need the consent of its five permanent members, including Russia and China, both wary of jeopardising their major economic interests in Iran.
Iran is a key oil supplier for China. Russia has a $1 billion stake in building Iran’s first atomic reactor.
(Additional reporting by Oleg Shchedrov in Moscow, Madeline Chambers in London, Noah Barkin in Berlin, Chris Buckley in Beijing and Tom Heneghan in Paris)