BRITAIN, France and Germany are to call an emergency meeting of the UN nuclear watchdog, (the IAEA) early next month to discuss Iran’s nuclear programme, the British foreign office said on Monday.
‘The EU-3 informed the other participants of their intention to call for an extraordinary IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) board of governors meeting on the 2nd and 3rd of February,’ a foreign office spokesman said.
France, Germany and the UK have also begun drafting a resolution to have Iran referred to the UN Security Council next month over its nuclear work, diplomats said, after Russia and the West managed to come, only close to an agreement on dealing with Tehran.
Iran’s resumption of nuclear research has sparked a flurry of Western diplomacy in pursuit of an IAEA vote that could result in UN sanctions being imposed on the country.
American and EU officials say Iran has failed to prove that its programme to develop fuel for civilian atomic energy is not being used as a cover for producing nuclear weapons.
Diplomats said the meeting in London on Monday of permanent council members Britain, France, Russia, China and the US, along with Germany, sought to bridge differences over Iran to enable an emergency IAEA board meeting and vote.
After Russia said it was ‘very close’ to Western views on Iran, which favour diplomatic action to curb its atomic project, Germany, France and Britain began drafting a referral resolution to submit to the IAEA’s 35-nation board, an EU diplomat said.
‘It’s short. It calls for El Baradei (the IAEA director-general) to report Iran to the Security Council,’ a diplomat said, asking for anonymity because of the subject’s sensitivity.
Moscow, with a $1 billion stake building Iran’s first atomic reactor, and Beijing, reliant on Iranian oil imports, have so far thwarted such a step by the IAEA board of governors.
But Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, said on Monday he was confident that China and Russia would back the EU in sending the issue to the Security Council.
However, Putin also said the crisis should be solved ‘without abrupt, erroneous steps’ – a possible nod to concerns of some that a rapid push towards UN sanctions could backfire.
‘We must move very carefully in this area,’ he said.
Putin said Tehran had not ruled out a Russian proposal to enrich uranium for Iran on Russian territory.
‘Concerning the Iranian nuclear problem, it’s necessary to work very carefully, without allowing abrupt, mistaken steps,’ Putin said at the close of talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Moscow.
Putin said a Russian compromise deal, which stipulates uranium enrichment could be carried out on Russian territory for Iran, was still in play.
‘We have heard various points of view from our Iranian partners. The Iranian foreign ministry, notably, has said that it does not rule out accepting our proposal,’ Putin said.
The Russian leader’s comments came as high-level international talks were underway in London on a possible referral of Iran to the United Nations Security Council over its nuclear plans.
Tehran insists that it is only interested in developing a civil nuclear programme, but opponents, led by Washington, suspect Iran of seeking nuclear weapons.
Pressure has built on Moscow to support the referral of Iran’s nuclear programme to the Security Council after Tehran announced it intended to resume nuclear research earlier this month.
Moscow enjoys close ties with the Iranian leadership and is building Iran’s first nuclear power station, at Bushehr, but has voiced concern at Iran’s plans to resume nuclear research.
The Russian proposal to enrich uranium on Iran’s behalf has been welcomed by the West as a possible way out of the Iranian nuclear question, but has yet to receive a definite response from the Iranians themselves.
There was no immediate comment from China. Beijing said last week that resorting to the Security Council might ‘complicate the issue’, citing Iran’s threat to hit back by halting snap UN inspections of its atomic plants.
Diplomats said yesterday that China’s resistance would be hard to overcome.
Iran says it seeks atomic energy only to power its economy – the IAEA has found no proof to the contrary – within its rights as a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
IAEA chief El Baradei told Newsweek magazine that it was not impossible that Iran had a secret nuclear arms programme.
‘If they have the nuclear material and they have a parallel weaponisation programme along the way, they are really not very far – a few months – from a weapon,’ he said.
These remarks are now being publicised by the US and Israel.
Many Iranians favour acquiring a full nuclear fuel industry to be taken seriously as a Middle East power and deter what they see as threats of US and Israeli attack.
Washington calls Iran a major orchestrator of terrorism, something Tehran denies.
Diplomats said the resolution drafting was at an early stage, and the EU was consulting all IAEA board members to obtain as much unanimity as possible if it came to a vote.
Iran, the world’s fourth-largest exporter of crude oil, has said that any attempt to isolate it could drive up world energy prices, damaging industrialised economies.