BERLIN, (Reuters) – Six world powers gathered in Berlin on Thursday to discuss the next steps in dealing with Iran’s nuclear programme, with Russia and China seeking assurances that there are no plans to use force against Tehran.
On Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously adopted a “presidential statement” calling on Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment work, which can produce fuel for power plants or atom bombs. It also asked the U.N. nuclear watchdog in Vienna to report in 30 days on Iranian cooperation with agency demands.
The council statement was the product of three weeks of negotiations among the five veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council — Britain, France, China, Russia and the United States. The final text was softened to remove language Moscow and Beijing feared could lead to punitive measures.
German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was quoted on Thursday by the Handelsblatt business daily that the Berlin talks should demonstrate international unity.
“I’m confident that a joint position will be possible,” he said. “For us it’s about having the greatest possible unity in the international community. A similar meeting in London on January 31 achieved important progress.”
Then, the five permanent members jointly agreed to report Iran to the Security Council over its nuclear activities.
On Wednesday, Iran’s ambassador to the U.N., Javad Zarif, said Iran would not bow to threats to give up its right to nuclear energy, adding his country was “allergic to pressure”.
The Islamic republic says it only wants civilian nuclear power, not atomic bombs as the West believes.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said neither Moscow nor Beijing would tolerate the use of force.
“As many of our European colleagues have said and as our Chinese friends have said many times, any ideas of resolving the matter by compulsion and force are extremely counterproductive and cannot be supported,” Russia’s Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang said Beijing believed a diplomatic solution remained possible.
“There’s still room for resolving the Iran nuclear issue through diplomatic negotiations and the international community shouldn’t abandon these efforts,” Qin told a news conference.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters en route to Berlin that the world must keep up pressure on Iran.
“The presidential statement is an international voice to the Iranians that they need to suspend their (uranium enrichment) activities, return to negotiations and that they continue to be isolated,” said Rice. She urged the other permanent council members and Germany to take into account Iran’s calls for Israel to be “wiped off the map”, as well as its support for Syria and Hizbollah in Lebanon.
The foreign ministers, along with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, were due to meet at 11 a.m. (0900 GMT) and hold a news conference at 1.15 p.m. (1115 GMT).
One EU diplomat said the U.S. and EU diplomats would discuss with their Russian and Chinese colleagues a strategy outlined in a letter from John Sawers, a leading British diplomat, sent to his Western counterparts earlier this month.
Sawers said the non-binding presidential statement should be followed by a binding resolution based on Chapter VII of the U.N. charter, which deals with “action with respect to threats to peace”. Adoption of such a resolution would make compliance enforceable with economic sanctions or other measures.
“We may also need to remove one of the Iranian arguments that the suspension called for is ‘voluntary’. We could do both by making the voluntary suspension a mandatory requirement to the Security Council, in a Resolution we would aim to adopt in say, early May,” Sawers said in the widely-circulated letter.
Iran’s decision to resume uranium enrichment in January prompted Britain, France and Germany to break off 2-1/2 years of EU talks with Iran and to back a U.S. demand to refer the Iranian nuclear dossier to the Security Council.
The EU trio has offered to resume talks with Iran on condition that it re-suspend all enrichment-related activities.
Rice will also meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss Iran and other issues before visiting France and Britain.