Wednesday, 3 May 2006

UN Security Council set to meet on Iran

The UN Security Council is preparing to meet to discuss Iran's refusal to comply with demands that it halt uranium enrichment, after envoys from the top five UN powers plus Germany said that a "firm" international response was needed.

Washington's ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, vented US impatience by threatening to form a coalition of allies to impose sanctions on Iran outside the United Nations framework.

If the Security Council is unwilling or unable to impose sanctions on Iran, then "I'm sure we would press ahead to ask other countries or other groups of countries to impose those sanctions," Bolton told a congressional committee in Washington on Tuesday.

The hardening Western stance against Iran sent oil prices to a new record level on Tuesday. Brent North Sea crude for June delivery rose to 74.97 dollars a barrel.

The United States, backed by Britain, France and Germany, fear Iran is on the path to building a nuclear arsenal under cover of developing atomic energy and wants to invoke Chapter 7 of the UN's Charter -- a passage that would open the way for sanctions and possibly even force as a way to freeze its activities.

US, British and French diplomats have already drafted a binding Security Council resolution requiring Iran to stop critical nuclear activities, the New York Times reported Wednesday.

But Moscow and Beijing, which are major trading partners with oil-rich Iran, are calling instead for a softer approach and are resisting the resolution, the Times reported, quoting officials involved in the negotiations.

The Security Council is scheduled to discuss Iran's nuclear program on Wednesday, said Congolese Ambassador Basile Ikouebe, the council president for the month of May.

The UN's nuclear watchdog agency, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), delivered a report Friday stating that Iran was in breach of a UN demand to halt uranium enrichment.

Ikouebe said the Council would decide at a later date whether to summon IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei for a briefing.

The French, British and German UN envoys met informally in New York late Tuesday, but nothing transpired in their deliberations.

The 15-member body monitored with great interest Tuesday's meeting on Iran in Paris between Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States -- the council's five veto-wielding permanent members -- and Germany.

The Paris talks were the first among senior representatives of the six countries since the ElBaradai report on Friday.

The meeting however ended with no agreement on measures to take against Tehran.

Nicholas Burns, the number three in the US State Department, said after the discussions that "all agreed that the Iran nuclear programme should be suspended, and agreed to begin Security Council debate and start negotiating a resolution for suspension."

But he also voiced frustration with permanent Security Council members Russia and China which are opposing Washington and its EU allies.

"It's time for countries to take responsibilities, especially those countries that have close relationships with Iran," he said.

With Iran striking a defiant tone, further negotiations were to take place in coming days as foreign ministers planned to gather in New York next Monday with the aim of producing a UN resolution acceptable to all.

French foreign ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said the six countries involved in the Paris meeting agreed that Iran's nuclear programme is incompatible "with the demands of the international community" and were concerned at its development.

But Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said earlier that Iran would "absolutely" not suspend its uranium enrichment work, and he predicted China and Russia would block the threat of UN sanctions.

"There is a very wrong assumption held by some that the West can do anything it wants through the Security Council," he told the hardline Tehran daily Kayhan.

At the same time, the head of the Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, said Iran had succeeded in enriching uranium to a higher level of purity than previously achieved.

The grade reached -- 4.8 percent purity -- would not be exceeded because "this level suffices for making nuclear fuel," he said.

The clerical regime has insisted its nuclear activities are exclusively for developing atomic energy.

Purity of more than 90 percent is required to produce the fissile core of an atom bomb -- a weapon Western intelligence assessments say Iran is at least seven years from being able to build.



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