Talks In London...
Foreign ministers from the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States), as well as the German foreign minister, were scheduled to meet in London on 30 January to discuss the Iranian nuclear crisis. This gathering should take place on the sidelines of a conference on Afghanistan.
Iran's Al-Alam television quoted British Foreign Office spokesman Barry Marston as saying that the 30 January meeting is aimed at coordinating participants' views -- particularly those of Russia and China. Marston added that although Britain, France and Germany have called for referring the issue to the Security Council, such a move does not necessarily require the imposition of sanctions. "We have called for this step in order to increase pressure on Iran," Martson said.
Speaking to reporters at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw sounded more definitive. He accused Iran of "very clearly" being "noncompliant" under its IAEA obligations. "We are trying to persuade Iran to come back into compliance, and there's some intense diplomacy taking place over this weekend," Straw charged. "We will make judgments in the light of discussions which will occur on [30 January] in London amongst the permanent five Security Council ministers and Germany."
Straw added that "despite very considerable efforts by the Europeans with the backing of other permanent members of the security council, Iran decided before Christmas not to cooperate but to break the seals on the centrifuges and move towards fuel enrichment. And if that remains the position, then the chances of them avoiding a reference to the Security Council are low."
...And A Meeting In Brussels
The London meeting is not the only event in Europe at which Iranian nuclear activities are being considered. Iranian news agency IRNA reported that Iranian negotiators, led by Supreme National Security Council official Javad Vaidi, were expected to meet on 30 January with European negotiators led by France.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki told reporters in Tehran on 28 January that Iran and the EU-3 (France, Germany, and the United Kingdom) engaged in "intensive dialogue" during "the past few days," IRNA reported. He accused the Europeans of having acted "hastily" so far.
Quoting anonymous European diplomats, the "Financial Times" website (http://www.ft.com) reported on 27 January that the EU probably will offer Iran a "last chance" by delaying serious Security Council discussion of the issue until March. A decision reportedly will be made at the 30 January London meeting. The same source reported the previous day that UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan is trying to delay a Security Council referral.
Toying With Moscow's Proposal?
Moscow proposed in December that fuel for Iranian nuclear facilities could be enriched in Russia, with the spent fuel returned to Russia for storage after use in the Islamic Republic. London and Washington have welcomed that proposal.
Foreign Secretary Straw referred to that option in Davos, calling Russia's proposal "constructive [in] that it provides a potential base for a way through for Iran." He added: "Iran will get its nuclear fuel to run its nuclear power stations. It is entitled to have nuclear power stations, but the fuel will come in a way that is safe for the rest of the world. There would not be worries then with other objective guarantees about Iran having nuclear weapons capabilities. That's the fundamental issue before us."
In Washington on 26 January, U.S. President George W. Bush also expressed backing for the Russian proposal, according to the State Department website. Iran's possession of a nuclear program is not the problem, Bush said. "I don't believe non-transparent regimes that threaten the security of the world should be allowed to gain the technologies necessary to make a weapon," he added.
Iranian Supreme National Security Council Secretary Larijani visited Moscow on 24 January to discuss the Russian proposal. Larijani subsequently indicated a lack of enthusiasm, according to IRNA, telling reporters at Tehran's Mehrabad Airport that Moscow's idea does not conform fully with Tehran's needs. He said the proposal should be revised in future discussions. The next round of Iran-Russia talks is scheduled for 16 February.
Larijani also addressed the nuclear issue during his trip to China. He told reporters at Mehrabad Airport on 27 January that "China's stance is that the Europeans should not hurry matters," adding, according to state television, that "they should allow the case to be investigated with the [IAEA] in a professional matter."
Concern In Tehran
IRNA quoted Foreign Minister Mottaki as saying recently that he hopes the upcoming IAEA board meeting goes in Iran's favor. Despite their optimism and occasional bluster, however, it is clear that Iranian officials are monitoring developments with some concern.
"Iran News" quoted legislator Mohammad Reza Tabesh as saying the government is forming a high-level group to address the nuclear issue, citing "Javan" newspaper. Tabesh reportedly said a number of top regime officials have already met with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei to discuss this.
Tabesh's statement appears to corroborate an earlier report from an Iranian opposition website. According to peiknet.com, top military and government officials -- including President Mahmud Ahmadinejad and Expediency Council Chairman Ayatollah Ali-Akbar Hashemi-Rafsanjani, and possibly former President Hojatoleslam Mohammad Khatami -- met with Khamenei on 23 January to discuss Larijani's trip to Moscow.
In addition to discussing the nuclear issue specifically, they reportedly touched on the decision by Switzerland's UBS bank to cut all ties to customers in Iran.