UN atomic watchdog arrives in Iran

The IAEA deputy director general's visit comes as the six world powers agree to consider new sanctions on Iran.
The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, visits the Natanz uranium enrichment facilities.
The Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, visits the Natanz uranium enrichment facilities.

The UN atomic watchdog's deputy director general, Olli Heinonen, arrived in Tehran today for a two-day visit to discuss the nuclear controversy, said a source in the Iranian atomic energy organisation. The visit comes as the six world powers agreed yesterday to consider new sanctions on Iran after Tehran, according to the United States and Britain, gave an ambiguous answer to their latest demand to freeze key nuclear work.

Washington and London said the diplomatic P5+1 group ? which includes fellow permanent UN Security Council members China, France, and Russia as well as partner Germany ? agreed it had "no choice" but to act. The United States said the move enjoyed support from Moscow and Beijing, which have resisted taking a harder line on Iran, but China had no immediate reaction and Russia's UN ambassador said he was unaware of such consensus.

"It may well be that in the course of those discussions some members of the six raised the issue of the sanctions," said the Russian envoy Vitaly Churkin. "But to the best of my knowledge there has been no firm agreement or understanding or concerted work in this regard." Earlier, top diplomats from the group discussed the stand-off by conference call in the wake of Iran's reply on Tuesday to a rewards package for freezing uranium enrichment, said the US State Department spokesman Gonzalo Gallegos.

They "have agreed that we have no choice but to pursue further measures against Iran as part of this strategy," Mr Gallegos said after the call, which also included the European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana. "Given the absence of a clear positive response from Iran and its failure to meet the deadline set by the UNSCR 1803, the P5+1 are discussing the next steps in the UNSC and beginning to consider the possible outlines of another sanction resolution," Mr Gallegos read to reporters from a written statement.

The powers "have agreed that, while informal contacts between Mr Solana and Mr (Iranian negotiator Saeed) Jalili will continue, we now have no choice but to pursue further sanctions against Iran, as part of our dual-track strategy", the British junior foreign minister Kim Howells said in a statement. Asked whether there was agreement among the six to proceed to the drafting of a new sanctions resolution, France's UN deputy ambassador, Jean-Pierre Lacroix, replied: "Our objective is not sanctions for the sake of sanctions."

"We have to resort to the Security Council (sanctions) if we don't see there's any possibility to enter into a dialogue," he noted. "But we are getting closer to the point where we will make that determination." Germany warned that Iran's reply was "insufficient" and urged a negotiated solution to the dispute over Western charges, denied by Iran, that Tehran's nuclear programme conceals an atomic weapons quest.

"If Iran does not choose this path, the UN Security Council will be referred to once again," the German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said. While Mr Gallegos called Tehran's reply to the package "a stalling tactic," Mr Churkin said: "We would have preferred a clear yes. But it is more complicated than that." Mr Churkin said that the Group of Eight wealthy industrialized countries, including some of Iran's top trading partners, would discuss the issue of whether to seek further sanctions at a ministerial meeting next month.

He added that ministerial talks by six major powers on a new round of sanctions were likely to continue during the General Assembly session, scheduled from Sept 23 to Oct 1. "The main thing to remember is the negotiating track is open ... There are contacts between the parties ... We need to focus very much on the negotiating opportunities which this may produce," Mr Churkin said. The Security Council has already ordered three rounds of sanctions against Iran. The United States says Iran is a weapons proliferation threat, while Iran insists that its nuclear research is for peaceful purposes.

Iran's latest letter to the international powers, delivered on Tuesday, says only that "they are not prepared to move any further", according to another European diplomatic source in Brussels. The letter said Tehran was ready to give a "clear response" to the international offer but demanded a "'clear response' to our questions and ambiguities." Along with the threat of further sanctions, Washington has warned that the option of military action remains open.

*AFP

Published: August 7, 2008 04:00 AM

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