TEHRAN (AFP) – Iran was facing a barrage of Western warnings time has almost run out to clinch a deal over its nuclear programme and it could be hauled up before the UN Security Council within a week.
Western powers have reacted coolly to a proposal by the Islamic republic that France monitor the enrichment of uranium on Iranian soil as a way out of the impasse, with the United States dismissing the suggestion as “stalling”.
Efforts to find a solution remain blocked by the question of uranium enrichment, a sensitive nuclear activity world powers want Tehran to suspend as proof it is not seeking nuclear weapons.
Iran insists it will not halt its programme.
“I hope that there is still room to resolve this,” said US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, who is on a tour of the Middle East.
“But the international community is running out of time because soon its own credibility in terms of enforcing its own resolutions will be … a matter of question,” said Rice.
Officials in Washington and London suggested the momentum was now moving towards the issue being taken to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions within a week.
“If (Iran’s answer) is maybe, it’s a no,” US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, the State Department point man on Iran, told The Washington Times.
“If it’s ‘We’d like to negotiate this further,’ it has been negotiated for four months,” Burns said.
“At some point, you have to draw the line. So I think you’ll have the answer by the end of the week,” he added.
A high-ranking British official, who declined to be named, said preparations were now underway to propose a draft resolution at the UN Security Council under Article 41 of the UN Charter, which allows for economic sanctions.
“Unless there is a sudden unexpected change of heart by the Iranians, we can expect this to move to New York in the coming week or so,” he said.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was due to give a televised speech in the afternoon, but there was little expectation he would announce any shift in Tehran’s position.
The deputy head of Iran’s atomic energy organisation, Mohammad Saeedi, on Tuesday ruled out suspending enrichment but instead offered “the best solution”.
“It is that France creates a consortium with Eurodif and Areva to carry out enrichment in Iran and thus they can closely monitor our nuclear programme,” he said, referring to France’s enrichment specialist and its parent company.
But Rice, in Cairo as part of her Middle East tour, dismissed the move as an “old idea” that has “been around for a while”.
“I fear that this may instead, therefore, be a stalling technique because we don’t want to get to the basic issue which is that Iran has to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing in order to begin negotiations,” Rice said.
Enrichment of uranium is at the heart of the crisis as the process can be used both to make nuclear fuel and, in highly enriched form, the explosive core of an atomic bomb.
Tehran insists its nuclear programme is solely for peaceful energy needs, vehemently rejecting US allegations it is seeking to manufacture nuclear weapons.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani have been leading talks aimed at finding a deal on Iran’s nuclear programme but have so far failed to reach a breakthrough.
The pair are expected to be in touch again by telephone this week.