“New Urgency” to Curb Iran
By Christian Lowe
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia said on Wednesday it wanted to refrain from taking action before a U.N. deadline set for Tehran to halt uranium enrichment expired, but a top U.S. official believed other countries were inching toward action.
Tensions remained high, with oil prices hitting a new high above $73, partly driven by fears the dispute could disrupt shipments from the world’s fourth-largest oil exporter.
“What I heard in the room last night was not agreement on the specifics but to the general notion that Iran has to feel isolation and that there is a cost to what they are doing,” UnderSecretary of State Nicholas Burns told reporters.
“Now we need to go beyond that and agree on the specifics of what measures we need to put that into operation,” he said.
He said Iran’s shock announcement last week that it had enriched uranium to a low level and planned to produce it on an industrial scale had focused the minds of the international community.
The US and its European allies say Tehran could divert highly enriched uranium to make bombs.
“What is new is a greater sense of urgency given what the Iranians did last week … Nearly every country is considering some sort of sanctions and that is a new development. We heard last night and again today that all of those that spoke are looking at sanctions,” Burns said.
In a surprise development, an Iranian delegation appeared later in the day in Moscow for talks with officials from the EU3â€”Britain, France and Germanyâ€”although one European official said he did not expect a “breakthrough.”
The Security Council on March 29 gave Iran a month to halt enrichment and answer questions from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on its nuclear program.
Russia and China, which both have veto power in the council, say they are not convinced sanctions would work. U.S. officials had hoped to use the talks to persuade them to take a tougher line on Iran, which it suspects of seeking nuclear weapons.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said some countries, including Russia, wanted to wait until the U.N. nuclear watchdog reports on Iranian compliance on April 28 before acting.
“We are convinced of the need to wait for the IAEA report due at the end of the month,” Lavrov told reporters.
An Iranian delegation headed to Moscow for talks on the dispute, Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki told state radio.
He said officials from the Foreign Ministry and the Supreme National Security Council would “discuss possible solutions which could pave the way to reach a comprehensive understanding based on a recognition of Iran’s right to nuclear technology.”
Iran says it only wants nuclear power for civilian use, but Russia said Tehran was not responding to international demands.
One diplomat from a country that opposes Iran’s nuclear work said Iran could suggest a “pause.”
“This is to prepare the ground for renewing negotiations with the Europeans,” the diplomat, said about the proposal. It was unclear how long the pause would be.
A senior EU3 diplomat said he would welcome Iranâ€™s presentating such an initiative and halting their enrichment research. But it would have to be more than a brief technical pause in order for the Europeans to revive negotiations with Tehran.
Burns said Washington was opposed to allowing Iran any kind of pause, calling some of Iran’s negotiating positions “a ruse.”
Market worries that the nuclear crisis might disrupt Iranian oil exports pushed oil above $73 a barrel, a fresh record.
Tuesday’s meeting of deputy foreign ministers from Russia, China, the United States, Germany, France and Britain underlined international differences over punitive action against Iran.
All the powers have said they are determined to solve the problem through diplomatic means, but the US is alone among them in not ruling out military action.
Pres. Bush plans to raise the issue during PM Hu Jintaoâ€™s visit.