Reuters: The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, urged Iran on Monday to halt all uranium enrichment work to help revive collapsed nuclear talks between Tehran and the European Union. By Louis Charbonneau
BERLIN, March 27 (Reuters) – The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, urged Iran on Monday to halt all uranium enrichment work to help revive collapsed nuclear talks between Tehran and the European Union.
His call for Iran to allay international concerns about its nuclear ambitions set the stage for a planned meeting in Berlin on Thursday of the foreign ministers of Germany, France, Britain, United States, Russia and China to try to break the deadlock on how to deal with Tehran.
ElBaradei, director-general of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told reporters that in light of concerns that Iran’s nuclear programme may not be entirely peaceful it was important for Tehran to resume a moratorium of uranium enrichment it ended earlier this year.
“We are not in a position today to say that (Iran’s nuclear) programme is exclusively for peaceful purposes,” ElBaradei said after meeting German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
“We would like Iran to suspend its enrichment programme.”
Tehran insists its programme is aimed at the peaceful generation of electricity. But Germany, the rest of the European Union and the United States believe Iran is secretly developing the capability to produce atomic weapons.
ElBaradei said he hoped the result of the U.N. Security Council’s “presidential statement” on Iran’s nuclear programme, currently being drafted in New York, would be the return of all parties to the negotiating table.
Two-and-a-half years of talks between Iran and the EU — spearheaded by Germany, France and Britain — reached an impasse earlier this year after Iran resumed research on its uranium enrichment programme.
Steinmeier said there was still disagreement at the Security Council on the wording of the draft statement that would call on Iran to suspend its nuclear fuel programme again and answer all the IAEA’s outstanding questions about its nuclear activities.
IRAN REMAINS DEFIANT
After a flurry of weekend calls among foreign ministers, the five permanent Council members — the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain — remained deadlocked over the statement wording , diplomats in New York said.
Russia, backed by China, wants to gut most of the demands in a statement prepared by Britain and France and backed by the United States. They object to heavy Council involvement, fearing it would lead to punitive measures, they said.
British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said plans were being made for the five permanent Council members plus Germany to meet to discuss Iran in Berlin on Thursday.
Senior British officials said the meeting was aimed at building a consensus on what action to take after the IAEA referred Iran to the Security Council. They said the main goal was to persuade Russia to get on board in a strategy on Iran.
“We are dealing with nervousness from some of the parties on what will happen next and uncertainties. Russia has particular concerns including very high equities in Iran,” he said.
Russia is building a $1 billion nuclear reactor at Bushehr. China also needs Iran’s vast gas and oil resources.
Steinmeier and ElBaradei were asked to comment on Iran’s completion of a 164-machine “cascade” of atomic centrifuges at its Natanz enrichment plant. Both men urged Iran to refrain from even small-scale enrichment work.
But Tehran was defiant, insisting it would keep enriching.
At a conference in Berlin, a group of security experts and officials discussed the topic of Iran, including the possibility of U.S. military strikes against Iran’s nuclear facilities.
Tehran’s ambassador to the IAEA was present and said airstrikes would not destroy Iran’s uranium enrichment activities, which could be easily moved and restarted.
“You know very well … we can enrich uranium anywhere in Iran, with a vast country of more than 1 million 600 square kilometres,” said Aliasghar Soltaniyeh, adding that Iran “cannot give up the programme at all”. (Additional reporting by Markus Krah in Berlin, Evelyn Leopold at the United Nations and Madeline Chambers in London)