6 na­tions seek­ing unity on Iran hit East-west im­passe

The Washington Times Daily - - World - BY GE­ORGE JAHN

VI­ENNA | Six world pow­ers strug­gled Wed­nes­day to find com­mon ground on how harshly to crit­i­cize Iran, re­flect­ing the dif­fi­cul­ties of pre­sent­ing a united front at up­com­ing talks with the Is­lamic repub­lic meant to coax it into re­duc­ing ac­tiv­i­ties that could be used to make a nu­clear weapon.

A 35-na­tion meet­ing of the In­ter­na­tional Atomic En­ergy Agency’s (IAEA) board was sched­uled to dis­cuss con­cerns about Iran’s nu­clear pro­gram Wed­nes­day. But its rapid and un­sched­uled ad­journ­ment re­flected the East­West di­vide.

The United States, Bri­tain, France and Ger­many seek a joint state­ment that takes Iran to task for de­fy­ing U.N. Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tions de­mand­ing it end uranium en­rich­ment and co­op­er­ate with an IAEA probe of sus­pi­cions it se­cretly worked on nu­clear arms.

But a se­nior Western diplo­mat told the As­so­ci­ated Press that Rus­sia and China — which have con­demned Western sanc­tions on Iran as coun­ter­pro­duc­tive — want more mod­er­ate lan­guage. He asked for anonymity be­cause his in­for­ma­tion was priv­i­leged.

While di­vi­sions along such lines are not new, the fact that diplo­mats at the IAEA meet­ing have been un­able to bridge them three days into the meet­ing re­flects poorly on hopes of unity at talks sched­uled in the near fu­ture be­tween Iran and the six.

Open skep­ti­cism within the Western camp about Iran’s readi­ness to ne­go­ti­ate cast fur­ther doubt about the out­come of those talks, with French For­eign Min­is­ter Alain Juppe say­ing he is not con­vinced the Is­lamic repub­lic is ready to com­pro­mise over its nu­clear pro­gram.

Speak­ing for the six pow­ers — which re­peat­edly have tried and failed to wrest con­ces­sions from Iran — Euro­pean Union for­eign pol­icy chief Cather­ine Ash­ton an­nounced Tues­day that they had agreed to new talks at a still-to-be de­ter­mined time and venue.

Even mi­nor progress at such a meet­ing would help lower ten­sions ex­ac­er­bated by in­creas­ingly fre­quent warn­ings from Is­rael of pos­si­ble mil­i­tary strikes on Iran’s nu­clear fa­cil­i­ties.

But Mr. Juppe said Wed­nes­day he’s “a bit skep­ti­cal” about the out­come af­ter pre­vi­ous fail­ures.

“I think Iran is con­tin­u­ing to use dou­ble­s­peak,” Mr. Juppe said on France’s i-tele tele­vi­sion. “That’s the rea­son why we must re­main ex­tremely firm on the sanc­tions we have de­cided upon, which are from my point of view the best way to avoid a mil­i­tary op­tion, which could have im­mea­sur­able con­se­quences.” Iran has stead­fastly re­jected de­mands to halt its uranium en­rich­ment, which Washington and its al­lies worry could be the foun­da­tion for a fu­ture nu­clear weapons pro­gram.

Iran claims it seeks only en­ergy and med­i­cal re­search from its re­ac­tors, but it wants full con­trol over the nu­clear process from uranium ore to fuel rods.

It also has stonewalled an IAEA probe of sus­pected clan­des­tine re­search and de­vel­op­ment into nu­clear weapons for four years, dis­miss­ing the al­le­ga­tions as based on forged in­tel­li­gence from the U.S. and Is­rael.

In a pos­si­ble con­ces­sion Tues­day, Tehran said in­spec­tors could visit Parchin, a mil­i­tary site that the IAE sus­pects was used for se­cret atomic weapons work. An IAEA off icial, speak­ing anony­mously be­cause of the sen­si­tiv­ity of the is­sue, dis­missed the of­fer as a stalling tac­tic.

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