BERLIN (Reuters) – The foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany will call for Iran to be hauled before the U.N. Security Council over its nuclear programme when they meet in Berlin on Thursday, EU diplomats said.
The United States said on Wednesday it was more likely than ever that Iran would be referred to the council for possible sanctions. It said it would seek to “change Iranian behaviour” through diplomatic channels.
If the ministers agree to such a push, it would signify the end of 2-1/2 years of diplomatic effort by the European Union’s three biggest nations to convince the Islamic republic to abandon its uranium enrichment programme, which they suspect it intends to use to produce fuel for atomic weapons.
Iran says it only aims to develop a civilian nuclear power programme and is doing nothing illegal.
“Everything is pointing towards the Security Council,” German Deputy Foreign Minister Gernot Erler told the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper in an interview published on Thursday. “It looks unavoidable if there are no concessions from Iran.”
A diplomat from one of the EU trio said the plan for the meeting, due to start at 3:30 p.m. (1430 GMT), was “cancellation and referral” — meaning ending talks with Iran unless it promises not to begin enriching uranium, and recourse to the Security Council, which could impose sanctions against Tehran.
“Everybody agrees the point of no return has been reached,” the EU3 diplomat said, referring to what he said was an informal consensus reached among the bloc’s 25 member states.
The mounting tensions sent crude oil prices sharply higher as concern grew that Iran, the world’s fourth biggest oil exporter, may use oil exports as a retaliatory weapon against the West or that sanctions could hit oilfield investment.
U.S. crude futures were up more than 50 cents at $64.54 a barrel after rising 57 cents on Wednesday when prices hit a three-month high of $64.80 amid volatile trading.
“RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT”
Iran raised the stakes in the nuclear dispute when it began removing U.N. seals at uranium enrichment research facilities on Tuesday and announced it would soon resume “research and development” on producing enriched uranium.
This drew rebukes from Washington, the EU and even Iran’s nuclear ally Russia, which is building a $1 billion nuclear reactor at Bushehr in Iran.
Prime Minister Tony Blair said on Wednesday he aimed to get international agreement to refer Iran to the Security Council. “Then … we have to decide what measures to take and we obviously don’t rule out any measures at all,” he said.
EU patience with Tehran has been wearing thin for months. The EU3 broke off negotiations with Iran after it re-started uranium processing in August, but resumed talks last month.
European anger intensified after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad recently called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” and questioned whether six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana will join German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and their French counterpart Philippe Douste-Blazy at the meeting in Berlin.
“The situation is extremely serious and gives us very great cause for concern. Iran has violated the 2004 Paris Agreement with the EU under which it suspended part of its nuclear programme,” Solana’s spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said.
She said Iran must promise not to begin enriching uranium, otherwise it would risk referral to the Security Council.
“That could in turn lead to economic sanctions,” she said.
European diplomats say they expect the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors to convene in early February to discuss turning Iran’s case over to the Security Council.
They say a simple majority on the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s 35-nation board favours such a move, but add that EU and U.S. officials will work to achieve as much consensus as possible.