UNITED NATIONS, AP – Britain’s strategy for getting Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions would be to try to get Russia and China, key Tehran allies, to impose sanctions that could be enforced militarily if diplomacy fails, according to a letter obtained by The Associated Press.
But Britain and its Western allies — the United States, France and Germany — face an uphill struggle in getting Moscow and Beijing even to agree on a U.N. Security Council statement calling on Iran to comply with demands by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to suspend uranium enrichment.
U.S. Ambassador John Bolton had expressed hope that the statement could be adopted after council discussions Tuesday afternoon. But U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told reporters Monday night after a 4 1/2-hour meeting of senior diplomats from the six countries that more time was needed for negotiations.
“We remain convinced that we will achieve a presidential statement,” Burns said. “It may take a little bit of time, but it’s going to be worth the time because when we do achieve that statement, it will be yet another clear unified message by the international community that Iran has to heed the words of both the IAEA and the U.N. Security Council.”
He reiterated that the six countries oppose Iran seeking a nuclear weapons capability and agree that Tehran is not complying with its international commitments and “is now traveling down a road toward enrichment and reprocessing which will be fundamentally detrimental to the interests of the world of nonproliferation and of peace and security.”
But serious differences remain on the best way to get Tehran to halt uranium enrichment.
The senior diplomats from the six countries agreed on a brief statement which said their meeting “built on progress” at a London meeting of their foreign ministers on Jan. 30.
“We share a deep concern that Iran has failed to respond positively to the IAEA resolution of Feb. 4, continues enrichment and has ceased cooperation under the (IAEA) additional protocol” which allows surprise inspections, it said. “We will remain in close touch, particularly to finalize draft Security Council action.”
Diplomats said the Russians and Chinese have not budged from their opposition to tough language in the proposed council statement including a demand for a report in 14 days on Iran’s compliance with IAEA demands. Moscow and Beijing have said that is too short, with China suggesting 30 to 45 days.
Russia and China also want the IAEA to assume the main role in cajoling Iran on uranium enrichment, which can be used to produce nuclear energy for electricity or nuclear weapons. They have raised concerns that pushing Iran too hard could lead to its withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and expulsion of IAEA inspectors.
China’s U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya reiterated after Monday’s meeting that Beijing could agree to Security Council action “if it is a short, brief political statement.” He said the council would need to keep talking about its first step.
The lack of any significant movement after 10 days could lead the Western nations to abandon the presidential statement, which requires the consensus of all 15 council members, in favor of a resolution which would be put to a vote, one council diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the issue has not been raised with members yet. That would put Russia and China in the position of having to approve, abstain or veto action against Iran.
Monday’s meeting, hosted by British Foreign Office Director John Sawers, occurred hours after a letter came to light detailing Britain’s approach to Iran. The confidential document from Sawers laid out a scenario to try to get Russia and China behind increasingly tough measures to pressure Iran to abandon uranium enrichment and reprocessing.
Sawers said Britain’s assessment is that the Iranians “will not feel under much pressure” from a Security Council statement alone, “and they will need to know that more serious measures are likely.”
He envisioned adoption of a follow-up Security Council resolution in early May which would make Iran’s suspension of uranium enrichment mandatory. Britain wants the resolution adopted under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, which means it would be militarily enforceable, Sawers said.
In return for Russian and Chinese support, Sawers said, the Western countries should put together a package of incentives that could be offered to Iran as a new proposal.
Sawers suggested that this package could be finalized in June, in the margins of a foreign ministers meeting of the Group of Eight major industrialized nations and Russia. Moscow holds the G-8 presidency this year and Sawers noted that the West’s influence on Russia “will be at its maximum” in the run-up to the group’s summit in July in St. Petersburg.
Along with a new proposal, he said, “we will also want to bind Russia and China into agreeing to further measures that will be taken by the Security Council should the Iranians fail to engage positively.”
But Sawers warned in the letter that “we are not going to bring the Russians and Chinese to accept significant sanctions over the coming months, certainly not without further efforts to bring the Iranians around.”
After the meeting, Sawers told reporters “there was a lot of common ground,” but discussions would continue in New York, in Vienna where the IAEA is headquartered, and between capitals. He refused to answer any questions and never mentioned the letter.
It was sent to Burns, German Foreign Office Political Director Michael Schaefer and French Foreign Ministry Political Director Stanislas de Laboulaye who all attended Monday’s meeting. Russia was represented by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak and China by Zhang Yan, director-general of the Foreign Ministry’s arms control department.