Europe refuses Iranian meeting


Published: Thursday, January 19, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 18, 2006 at 11:21 p.m.
Europe, backed by the United States, on Wednesday rejected Iran's request for talks on its nuclear program, cranking up international pressure on Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said "there's not much to talk about" until Iran halts nuclear activity. But Iran's president accused the West of acting like the "lord of the world" in denying his country the peaceful use of the atom.
The quick dismissal of Iran's request for a ministerial-level meeting with French, British and German negotiators focused attention on the next step: the U.S. and European push to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council, which could impose economic and political sanctions.
Russia and China, which have veto power on the council, appeared to remain the greatest obstacles. Both nations are opposed to sanctioning a country with which they have strong economic and strategic ties. In recent days, they have expressed reluctance even to the idea of referral.
The national security adviser of Israel, which strongly supports hauling Iran before the Security Council, was in Moscow on Wednesday to make his country's case, as was the French foreign minister. Tehran's ambassador to Russia urged the Kremlin to resist what he called pressure from other countries.
Even if there were consensus on sanctions, the five permanent Security Council members would be faced with a dilemma. Placing an embargo on Iran's oil exports would hurt Tehran, which earns most of its revenues from energy sales, but would also roil world crude markets, spiking prices upward.
Europe halted talks after Iran resumed uranium enrichment research this month. The West fears the nuclear program will lead to nuclear weapons, though Iran insists it is only for civilian use.
"Iran must return to a complete suspension of these activities," said French Foreign Ministry spokesman Denis Simonneau. He said Iran's decision to resume the research "means that it is not possible for us to meet under satisfactory conditions to pursue these discussions."
Simonneau said discussions are not possible either among ministers or "at the level of civil servant" as long as Iran pursues nuclear activities.
In Washington, Rice and the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, also rejected any return to talks. France, Germany and Britain led the talks with Iran on behalf of the 25-member European bloc.
Rice condemned Iran's decision to resume its nuclear program, saying the international community is united in mistrusting Tehran and its present leadership with such technology.
Britain, too, refused to consider renewed talks.
"Iranian professions of continued interest in negotiations are ... not credible. The Iranians knew full well that resuming enrichment-related activity would trigger" a halt to talks, and did it anyway, a British Foreign Office spokesman said Wednesday, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with government policy.
In Vienna, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, announced Wednesday that a special meeting of its 35-nation board of governors would be held Feb. 2. The United States, France, Britain and Germany had requested the meeting to consider referring Iran to the Security Council.
Solana said that at a meeting in London on Monday, Russia proposed having the Security Council host a debate on Iran's nuclear activities.
The proposal would postpone referral by the IAEA to the council for possible action against Iran at least until the agency's meeting in March.
But Solana said "we have the votes" now to refer the dispute to the Security Council and that he did not support a delay.
Even so, European allies will concentrate in coming weeks on building support among countries with a vote on the IAEA board, another British Foreign Office official told reporters.
Egypt, which sits on the board, has balked at a formal referral, even after a direct request from Vice President Dick Cheney in talks Tuesday with President Hosni Mubarak.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier met in Cairo on Wednesday with his Egyptian counterpart and said the West's position met with "understanding" from Egypt.
For its part, Iran sent a senior official to Cairo to meet Wednesday with Amr Moussa of the Arab League.
The United States, Britain, France and Germany have drawn up a draft IAEA resolution that would ask the Security Council to press Tehran "to extend full and prompt cooperation to the agency" in its investigation of suspect nuclear activities - though it stops short of asking the council to impose sanctions.
French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said the IAEA meeting will be a "very important moment."
Speaking in Berlin after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Villepin said European nations are seeking the "greatest possible consensus to mark clearly the limit of what we can accept."
However, neither he nor Merkel would say exactly what steps might be taken against Tehran.
The German leader said Iran "in no way fulfilled expectations" during the two years of negotiations with Europe.
President Bush called Merkel on Wednesday to discuss developments in Iran, said White House press secretary Scott McClellan. He said the world's patience with Iran has worn thin.
"I think we're long passed the point of talk," McClellan said. "We expect action from the regime in Iran. And the only action they have shown has run contrary to the demands of the international community."
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad shrugged off attempts to refer Iran to the council. "There isn't any problem. This is their endeavor," he told reporters.
He accused the West of trying to deprive Iran of peaceful nuclear technology.
"We are asking they step down from their ivory towers and act with a little logic," he said. "Who are you to deprive us from fulfilling our goals? You think you are the lord of the world and everybody should follow you. But that idea is a wrong idea."
--- Associated Press writers Beth Gardiner in London, Nasser Karimi in Tehran, Henry Meyer in Moscow, George Jahn in Vienna and Barry Schweid in Washington contributed to this report.

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