Reuters: European Union foreign ministers will debate on Friday what to do about Iran’s defiance of a U.N. deadline to stop sensitive nuclear work and how to use the aftermath of the Lebanon war to promote Middle East peace. By Paul Taylor
LAPPEENRANTA, Finland, Sept 1 (Reuters) – European Union foreign ministers will debate on Friday what to do about Iran’s defiance of a U.N. deadline to stop sensitive nuclear work and how to use the aftermath of the Lebanon war to promote Middle East peace.
At a two-day informal meeting near Finland’s border with Russia, ministers are expected to back efforts for further dialogue with Tehran despite strong U.S. pressure for an immediate move to impose punitive sanctions.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told Reuters he hoped to meet Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, in the coming days to seek a clear answer to major power proposals for broad cooperation if Tehran halts uranium enrichment.
Iran sent a confidential 21-page reply last week but Western officials said it evaded the international community’s key demand to halt making nuclear fuel that could be used for atomic weapons as well as power stations.
Solana deflected talk of sanctions, saying that was for the U.N. Security Council, and stressed the Europeans still sought a diplomatic outcome to the dispute over Iran’s nuclear programme, which the West suspects is aimed at developing a bomb.
“As you know it was a reply given by Iran. We have to see if we can get some understanding of the elements of the document which are not clear enough for us and I think a meeting face to face could clarify that,” he said.
Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja, who will chair the meeting, said the EU could try to convince the Islamic Republic to give a straightforward answer.
“They are interested in our package but they dress their answer in so much somewhat contradictory terminology,” he said. “The real solution would be for them tomorrow to say we will stop enrichment, suspend enrichment, then we can get into negotiations.”
But there was no sign of any such decision by Tehran. On the contrary, the country’s leadership insisted it would not give up what it calls the inalienable right to nuclear technology.
Diplomats said Iran’s tactic was to fudge the deadline, and try to divide Russia and China from the West and the Europeans from the United States by dangling the possibility of a negotiated freeze on enrichment at a later date.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said he deplored Iran’s “unsatisfactory” reply but the path of dialogue should always be privileged.
Britain, closest to Washington on the Iran issue, made clear it too would prefer another attempt at talks.
Asked if London would support a further EU meeting with Tehran after the U.N. deadline to halt uranium enrichment expired, a Foreign Office spokesman said: “Our preference remains for a negotiated solution, but Iran needs to comply with the mandatory requirements of the Security Council resolution.
“We don’t close the door to further talks but the requirements of the Council are clear.”
On the Arab-Israeli conflict, the EU ministers will discuss how to leverage their growing military presence as peacekeepers in southern Lebanon to bring about new regional talks.
European officials argue that the fragile ceasefire between Israel and Lebanese Hizbollah guerrillas and continuing Israeli-Palestinian violence can only be resolved by a political process leading to a negotiated settlement.
Solana’s spokeswoman said he would urge the minister to build momentum for new talks based on a return to Israel’s 1967 borders “plus or minus agreed minor adjustments”. The principle is anathema to Israel, which wants to retain swathes of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the Golan Heights and Arab East Jerusalem, with the acquiescence of the United States.
(Additional reporting by Rex Merrifield and Jane Ross)