Reuters: The West should be open to further talks with Iran despite an impasse over its nuclear aspirations, the EU’s top diplomat said on Thursday, hinting at lingering European hesitation to pursue sanctions sought by Washington. By Silvia Aloisi
ROME (Reuters) – The West should be open to further talks with Iran despite an impasse over its nuclear aspirations, the EU’s top diplomat said on Thursday, hinting at lingering European hesitation to pursue sanctions sought by Washington.
France, while suggesting Iran was exploiting the stalemate to build up its atomic fuel programme, said “we are (still) offering our hand” for a deal. Russia said it remained opposed to sanctions despite the apparent dead end in EU-Iran talks.
The remarks signaled uncertain resolve among leading world powers before they hold expected talks in the next few days at which the United States, backed by Britain, is likely to seek a decision on preparing sanctions at the U.N. Security Council.
Iran again urged the West on Thursday to solve the standoff through talks but reiterated it would not shelve its uranium enrichment programme. Iran says the programme is only for power generation. The Wests suspects a secret atomic bomb project.
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said on Thursday the door to dialogue should not be slammed. “I think that even if we fail now, we should maintain the doors open to continue dialogue with Iran,” he told reporters in Rome.
“The time for negotiations is not infinite, but we try to do our utmost.”
After weeks of painting a picture of constructive progress, Solana had said on Wednesday that after “endless talks” Iran was still unyielding on the crucial issue — a U.N. demand that it stop enrichment to rebuild trust.
Seizing on his remarks, the United States –Iran’s arch-foe — said the logical upshot was to resort to punitive sanctions.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice said during a visit to Baghdad the “issue is to hear from Solana and to move — most likely to move — on to sanctions”.
Many EU states are cool on sanctions due to hefty trade stakes in Iran, reliance on Iranian oil, concern Iran might quit the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, or fears of heightened terrorism against the West. Many prefer further dialogue.
Rice said it was unclear whether the six world powers — the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany — would meet this weekend and raised the possibility of consultations by telephone instead.
In New York, Britain’s U.N. ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said he expected Iran to be discussed by the Security Council next week, including non-military sanctions under Article 41 of the U.N. Charter.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, whose country could veto sanctions in the Security Council, reiterated on Thursday that Moscow remained opposed to sanctions and indicated there was still room for further diplomacy.
“I believe that until diplomatic means are exhausted, sanctions would be too radical,” Lavrov told a news conference in Warsaw. “We have to do everything to persuade Iran to begin negotiations … The issue needs to be resolved diplomatically.”
Lavrov was quoted by Russian news agencies as saying a proposed U.S. measure to impose sanctions on foreign firms doing business in Iran would complicate international moves to curb Tehran’s nuclear programme.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste Blazy told reporters during a visit to Spain: “We are offering our hand (to Tehran), meanwhile Iran is gaining time, so the six of us must meet to look at the consequences of Iran’s attitude.
“If we are not able to progress, we will have to go back to the Security Council. But even if that is the case, the door to dialogue will continue to be open whenever Iran chooses to suspend its nuclear programmes.”
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the Islamic Republic would resist pressure to halt its atomic work.
“Either in the nuclear issue or other issues, the Iranian nation will resist by relying on its young and its beliefs,” he told a rally broadcast on state television.
The president is not Iran’s most powerful figure. Under Iran’s system of clerical rule, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the last word. He has previously said Iran would not submit to pressure and would press ahead with atomic plans.
An EU diplomat, asking not to be named, said: “We can’t hold back much longer. Our credibility is at stake. Iran is bent on endlessly talking about talks. We mustn’t be naive.
“On the other hand, no one has any illusions that sanctions are sure to work especially as Russia won’t join any tough steps. They have too much business at stake in Iran,” the diplomat said, adding there were no ideal options.
(Writing by Mark Heinrich; editing by Ralph Gowling)