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UN Powers Discuss Iran Issue With Arab Envoys

  • Nikola Krastev

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks to reporters after the meeting.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice speaks to reporters after the meeting.

UNITED NATIONS -- Senior diplomats of the six countries involved in talks on Iran's nuclear program met with representatives of eight Arab countries on December 16 at the UN to assure them of their commitment to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.

The six nations -- which are known as the P5+1 and include UN Security Council permanent members Russia, China, Britain, the United States, and France, plus Germany -- have led negotiations on three rounds of UN sanctions against Iran for refusing to suspend uranium-enrichment work.

Official representatives from Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, and members of the Gulf Cooperation Council -- which includes Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates -- took part in the 90-minute meeting at UN headquarters. Oman, another member of the council, did not participate.

The meeting was described by some participants as "informal and informative," but no policy goals, or possible extensions on Iranian sanctions, were discussed.

'In Everyone's Interest'

In remarks prior to the meeting, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said his country is seeking a peaceful, nonconfrontational approach toward Iran.

"Arab countries have shown well-understood interest in this theme, and it is in everyone's interest, and their interest, that there be no worsening of the situation in this area," he said. "Therefore, we will take part in this meeting. We will clarify those principles that were agreed upon in the format of the work on the Iran nuclear program, and we will advocate that these principles be implemented."

Tehran says its nuclear activities are aimed solely at energy production, but many countries believe it is trying to develop nuclear weapons.

Moscow has long been an advocate of a flexible, multifaceted approach toward Tehran's nuclear ambitions -- a position that has frequently put it at odds in the Security Council with the United States and Britain, two permanent members who subscribe to a more aggressive, isolationist policy.

That approach was evident in Lavrov's comments before the meeting.

"Particularly for Russia, we are firmly committed to the need to use this process in order to support -- with all possible means via the Security Council, the UN, and via other channels -- [to] support the work of the [International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA]," Lavrov said. "We will avoid any steps that would complicate that or make it impossible. And on these terms, we will then tomorrow talk with our Arab partners, who, I repeat, are showing well-based, justified, and understandable interest in this theme."

Lavrov did not attend the meeting. Russia was represented instead by Sergei Kislyak, the ambassador to Washington and a former deputy foreign minister in charge of the Iranian nuclear program.

'Cordial And Informative'

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice did attend the meeting and was the only participant who spoke to reporters afterward.

"All [participants] there expressed their concern about Iran's nuclear policies and its regional ambitions. All participants expressed support for the ongoing work of the UN Security Council, the P5-plus-1, and the IAEA regarding the Iranian nuclear file," Rice said. "The states present agreed that they would want to continue their meetings on a regular basis."

Rice described the meeting as "cordial and informative" and said all countries involved "have a very deep interest" in how this issue gets resolved" and want to continue talking.

The UN Security Council has so far adopted four resolutions on Iran's suspected nuclear activities -- three of which included sanctions -- and demanded that Tehran suspend indefinitely its uranium-enrichment program.

Indications are that no move to extend the sanctions on Iran is expected to be considered by the six countries until after U.S. President-elect Barack Obama takes office on January 20, 2009.