Iran the thorn in EU-US ties

Posted in Iran | 14-Feb-05 | Author: Stefania Bianchi| Source: Asia Times

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (R) and Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn arrive at a news conference in Luxembourg, February 10, 2005.
BRUSSELS - US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has urged the European Union to adopt a tougher stance toward Iran, and to make it clear that Tehran risks United Nations sanctions if it does not halt its nuclear program.

Iran has started to enrich uranium, ostensibly for energy production. However, enriched uranium serves as fuel for both atomic bombs and nuclear power plants - raising fears that Tehran's real desire is to build nuclear weapons.

Nearing the end of an eight-day fence-mending tour of 10 European and Middle Eastern capitals, Rice told reporters in the Belgian capital, Brussels, that although the US had not set a deadline for talks on the Iranian program, "they cannot go on forever". She added that the Bush administration still believed the UN should also adopt a more critical position on Iran's nuclear ambitions.

At a press briefing held at the European Commission, the European Union, its executive and the US also declared that a fresh start had been made with trans-Atlantic relations to bridge divisions created by the US-led war on Iraq.

"The times are different now than they were a year ago or two years ago when we did have our differences - not with everyone, but with a number of states," said Rice. "While we still had common interests and common values I don't think we had a common agenda for a while on what was really before us, at least in regards to Iraq."

However, Rice's charm offensive could not completely disguise the fact that Washington and Europe still have deep-seated differences over how the situation in Iran should be dealt with.

France, Germany and the UK (the EU-3) have tried to negotiate a freeze - and, ultimately, the abandonment - of Iran's nuclear activities, promising economic and technological aid in return for compliance on the part of Tehran. They have also pledged security guarantees. The US, for its part, attempted last year to get Iran reported to the UN Security Council, to face possible sanctions.

"The Iranians need to get that message," Rice told the media in Brussels, adding that Tehran should know that "there are other steps" the international community could take if it failed to heed warnings about its nuclear program.

Rice's comments echoed remarks she had made in an earlier interview with US television channel Fox News. "They [the Iranians] need to hear that the discussions that they are in with the Europeans are not going to be a kind of way station where they are allowed to continue their activities - that there's going to be an end to this and that they are going to end up in the Security Council," she said.

"Iranians need to hear that if they are unwilling to take the deal, really, that the Europeans are giving, then the Security Council referral looms," Rice added. "I don't know that anyone has said that as clearly as they should to the Iranians."

Referral of this matter to the Security Council would require approval by the 35-member board of governors of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency, where Europe's support is essential.

Britain has moved closer to the US's position, but Germany and France say diplomacy rather than threats still provides a better chance of reaching a deal with Iran. The Bush administration has long viewed the European process as futile and thinks Iran is stalling.

However, on Thursday, Jean Asselborn, foreign minister of current EU president Luxembourg, said the Iranians must realize "they must not play with us". Speaking in Geneva on the margins of fresh EU-Iranian talks, he said Europe is firmly opposed to Iran having a nuclear bomb.

In his State of the Union speech February 3, US President George W Bush said the US saw Iran as a threat. "Today, Iran remains the world's primary state sponsor of terror - pursuing nuclear weapons while depriving its people of the freedom they seek and deserve.The Iranian regime must give up its uranium-enrichment program and any plutonium reprocessing and end its support for terror," he said.

In Tehran, President Mohammad Khatami said that no Iranian government would ever abandon the progress the country has made in developing peaceful nuclear technology. Iran has suspended its program to enrich uranium while it continues to negotiate with the Europeans, but Khatami reiterated Iran's position that the action was temporary. He did say that anyone attempting military intervention in Iran would be met with a "burning hell".

(Inter Press Service)