Reuters: Most members of the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s governing board, a barometer of world sentiment on Iran, are likely in a debate to champion last-gasp talks to defuse a stand-off over Iran’s atomic work, diplomats say. By Mark Heinrich
VIENNA (Reuters) – Most members of the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s governing board, a barometer of world sentiment on Iran, are likely in a debate to champion last-gasp talks to defuse a stand-off over Iran’s atomic work, diplomats say.
Weekend talks in which diplomats said Tehran offered to consider temporarily halting uranium enrichment, and U.S. hints of openness to such a compromise, have revived hopes of averting sanctions with the risk of economic and security repercussions.
Most members of the 35-nation International Atomic Energy Agency board were expected to tread cautiously when they debate the Iran nuclear issue now poised between diplomatic progress and volatile confrontation.
“Nobody wants to provoke anybody. Low-key statements are expected, calling on Iran to seize this negotiating opportunity, not much more,” said a diplomat from one of the “EU3” powers — Germany, France, Britain — at the forefront of Iran diplomacy.
The debate was to be held later on Tuesday or Wednesday.
The West believes Iran’s fledgling nuclear program, which Tehran says is just to generate electricity, is a veiled attempt to produce atom bombs and has condemned its disregard of an August 31 U.N. Security Council deadline to stop enriching uranium.
While the IAEA debate was expected to urge diplomacy continues, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Tuesday Washington would move forward on possible sanctions if Iran kept refusing to shelve enrichment.
“We are going to pursue, and pursue actively, the road of sanctions within the U.N. Security Council … That’s the path that we’re on,” Rice said during a trip to Canada.
Regarding a timetable, she said the big powers’ foreign ministers would meet on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York starting next week.
But Rice also held out the possibility on Monday that Washington might join talks with Iran if it temporarily suspends its nuclear program, and chose not to flatly reject talk of a shorter-term enrichment freeze by Tehran.
Previously, the United States said Iran must stop nuclear enrichment-related work for a longer, indefinite period.
MORE TALKS PLANNED
Iran still rejects suspending enrichment before negotiations to implement an offer of trade benefits from the powers, suggesting it could bar IAEA inspectors if hit with sanctions.
But indications the two sides might be able to compromise on timing and duration of suspension emerged from weekend talks between Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, representing the six powers.
An EU diplomat said the two men were expected to meet again sometime between Wednesday evening and Friday morning, and a senior Solana aide met Iranian officials to prepare the meeting.
Solana had briefed all six foreign ministers and would speak to Rice again before reconvening with Larijani, probably in Vienna, the diplomat said.
Diplomats at the IAEA board said most statements planned for the pending debate on Iran would probably stress the value of a diplomatic solution given widespread reluctance to isolate the world’s No. 4 oil exporter and Middle East strategic giant.
It was unclear whether the six powers would speak as one at the IAEA as Russia and China, while also saying Iran must not be allowed to acquire atom bombs and must prove to the world it is not trying to do so, have opposed U.S. pressure for sanctions.
Board members from the Non-Aligned Movement that groups developing nations including Iran, were likely to stress its right to a domestic nuclear fuel industry but also encourage Iran more than before to cooperate to find a peaceful solution.
“We may still get strong statements from the United States and Iran. But the dialogue of real consequence is going on elsewhere — and given the stakes, none of the players here are going to make any friends in their respective capitals by saying anything rash,” a senior IAEA diplomat told Reuters.
The text of Iran’s August 22 reply to the incentives offer from the five permanent Council members — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — made public on Monday left room for a possible suspension but was not conclusive.
It also set terms that are likely non-starters for the West, such as cancellation of Security Council involvement in Iran’s case and a final halt to IAEA investigation if no proof of an arms program has been found. None has so far.