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Iran: EU Edging Toward Sanctions In Nuclear Standoff

Iran's uranium-enrichment center in Isfahan (file photo) European Union foreign ministers yesterday warned they might support referring Iran to the UN Security Council unless the country reverses its decision last month to resume nuclear activity. At their two-day meeting in rural Wales, the ministers indicated Iran will have until mid-September to return to talks with the European Union. Privately, however, EU officials suggested they have little hope that even sanctions will prove effective at pressing Iran to drop its nuclear program.

Newport, Wales; 1 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The EU is moving closer to joining the United States in pressing for UN
sanctions against Iran in retaliation for its recent decision to resume work on parts of its nuclear program.

External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner told journalists the EU faces "difficult decisions." She said: "I must say we had a very serious discussion on Iran. And I would say it is clearly a rather delicate moment, and we may
have some difficult decisions to take."
One EU diplomat told RFE/RL that member-states do not appear to support the idea that Iran could safely be allowed to conduct any part of the uranium-enrichment process.

Jack Straw, the British foreign minister and the current chair of the EU Council of Foreign Ministers, said the ministers
agreed Iran's decision last month to resume work on uranium conversion breaches earlier commitments made during talks with Britain, Germany, and France -- the so-called EU-3.

"All member states expressed deep concern at Iran's resumption of uranium conversion, which is in breach of successive IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] board resolutions, and the Paris agreement, which was entered into between Iran and the European Union EU-3 last November," Straw said. "The European Union very much hopes that Iran will reconsider its position."

Straw said the EU will not make any decisions until the head of the IAEA, Muhammad el-Baradei, presents a further report on Iran to the agency's board of governors.

The United States has expressed concern that Iran seeks to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran says its nuclear facilities are for civilian purposes only.

Ferrero-Waldner said the IAEA board meeting in Vienna on 19 September could prove crucial. Straw said Iran can still return to the negotiating table with the EU-3. A precondition for this, however, is an end to the uranium conversion and the resealing of Iran's nuclear facilities by IAEA inspectors.

Straw said Iran needs to rebuild international confidence. "The key to resolving this issue is for Iran to take confidence-
building steps requested of it in those successive IAEA board resolutions. We agreed that Iran's recent actions undermined the confidence which was being built and was a challenge to the European Union. And it's a situation that we felt we could not accept."

He said if Iran does not suspend its nuclear work once again, the EU will be forced to respond -- possibly by urging the IAEA to pass the matter to the UN Security Council.

The EU-3 on 5 August offered Iran economic aid and enhanced political ties in return for a permanent suspension of all uranium-enrichment work. Straw called it the "most far-reaching proposal" the EU had made "since the Iranian

Speaking privately, one EU diplomat told RFE/RL that member-states do not appear to support the idea that Iran could safely be allowed to conduct any part of the uranium-enrichment process.

Previously, the EU has agreed that Iran has the right to pursue a civilian nuclear program. However, the EU has insisted that Iran must import its nuclear fuel and return the waste.

The diplomat said most member states believe Iran is eventually hoping to build a nuclear weapon.

However, he added that member states are uncertain what to do next. Even if Security Council members Russia and China decided not to veto sanctions, officials expect they will have little or no effect, as Iran is a major oil exporter.