Friday, September 23, 2005

Russia, China warn against antagonizing Iran

VIENNA - Russia and China warned the United States and European Union on Wednesday against escalating the nuclear standoff with Iran, potentially blocking a Western drive to haul Tehran before the U.N. Security Council. Reuters reported.

The European Union has circulated a U.S.-backed draft resolution calling on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) governing board to report Iran's secretive nuclear programme to the Security Council, which could impose sanctions.

Western countries suspect Tehran is developing atomic weapons under cover of a civilian nuclear energy programme. Iran insists its programme is peaceful and intended to meet its energy requirements.

Both Russia and China, which as permanent, veto-wielding members of the Council could block any action, warned the West against antagonizing Iran.

"While Iran is cooperating with the IAEA, while it is not enriching uranium and observing a moratorium, while IAEA inspectors are working in the country, it would be counter-productive to report this question to the U.N. Security Council," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.

"It will lead to an unnecessary politicizing of the situation. Iran is not violating its obligations and its actions do not threaten the non-proliferation regime," he said in a speech in San Francisco reported by the RIA Novosti news agency.

And Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing told an EU team headed by British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw at the United Nations that sending the Iran issue to the Security Council could be counter-productive, a European participant said.

The diplomat quoted Li as saying that kicking the issue from Vienna to New York "could encourage Iran to take extreme measures" and would not be constructive.

Russia is building a $1 billion nuclear reactor for Iran and sees it as a key ally in the Middle East.

"The Russians are blocking the resolution," said a diplomat from one of the EU "big three" countries -- France, Britain and Germany -- on condition of anonymity.

"They aren't moving at all, not one centimeter. They don't even want to talk about the resolution. They don't want to propose any amendments. Nothing," the diplomat said.

Russia's Foreign Ministry made it clear in an email to Reuters that it would prefer a different kind of resolution.

"We are ready to work with all parties involved on a resolution that would reflect the situation in a balanced way and help find negotiable solutions and solid guarantees that the Iranian nuclear programme is peaceful," the ministry said.

EU TOUGHENS RHETORIC ON IRAN

Western countries say that since Iran hid its uranium enrichment programme from the IAEA for 18 years, the only way it can prove it is not seeking nuclear bombs is permanently to renounce sensitive nuclear technology.

Echoing U.S. language on Iran, the EU hardened its rhetoric, blasting Iran for its determination to press ahead with a programme which could produce atomic bombs.

"We ... regret, and feel deeply concerned by the fact that Iran gives every sign of being intent on developing a fissile material production capability well before the international community obtains what it needs: confidence that Iran's programme is exclusively peaceful in nature," the EU said in a statement on behalf of 25 EU members and other European states.

Other Western countries on the IAEA board, including Canada, Japan and Australia support the EU draft resolution. But only 20 or 21 out of 35 members back it at the moment, diplomats say.

Iran has angered the EU and other Western countries by resuming uranium processing work at a plant in Isfahan. That move led EU officials to threaten the Council referral.

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator reacted angrily to the EU draft resolution, saying on Tuesday that Tehran might pull out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and resume uranium enrichment, which can produce fuel for energy or bombs, if Tehran goes to the Security Council.

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, has said his country, the world's fourth biggest oil producer, might link countries' access to its oil to whether they support Iran.

Vice President and head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran Gholamreza Aghazadeh reiterated some of the threats but told reporters that "leaving the NPT is not on the agenda."

Diplomats on the IAEA board, holding its quarterly meeting this week, said the EU draft resolution had been informally distributed to the 35 IAEA board members but had not yet been formally submitted to the board.


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