Thu, Jan 12, 2006 - Page 1 News List

European ministers to mull Iran action at meeting today

WHAT NEXT?In the wake of Tehran's decision to remove IAEA seals from one of its nuclear plants, EU leaders will meet to jointly manage the crisis

AGENCIES , BERLIN, LONDON AND TEHRAN

The foreign ministers of Germany, France and Britain will gather in Berlin today to determine how to move forward in the escalating crisis over Iran's nuclear program, Germany's chief diplomat Frank-Walter Steinmeier said yesterday.

Steinmeier told reporters yesterday that EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana would also take part in the meeting, after which the participants would consult with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice by telephone.

He said the purpose of the meeting, which will include Britain's Jack Straw and Philippe Douste-Blazy of France, was to decide whether there was still "political room to maneuver" between the so-called EU-3 and Tehran over Iran's controversial nuclear program.

Steinmeier said an alternative included handing the matter over to the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

He said the ministers and Solana could issue a "recommendation" on how to proceed on the issue, or file an official report to the UN Security Council.

Iran on Tuesday removed IAEA seals from its Natanz nuclear plant, which will allow it to resume sensitive nuclear research.

Tehran argues its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, but many countries fear it is seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

`Likely' referral

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said yesterday that it "seems likely" that Iran will be referred to the UN Security Council for resuming its nuclear fuel enrichment program.

"The first thing to do is to secure agreement for a reference to the Security Council, if that is indeed what the allies jointly decide, as I think seems likely," he said.

Straw first mentioned the possibility of a EU-3 foreign ministers' meeting this week on Tuesday and said that referring Iran to the UN Security Council -- a potential prelude to sanctions -- would be at the "top of the agenda."

"We'll make a decision then ... but I think it's clear the direction in which we're thinking," he told reporters in London.

Straw said Tehran's move amounted to "yet another breach" of IAEA resolutions and a November 2004 agreement that the Islamic republic signed with London, Paris and Berlin.

Steinmeier said on Tuesday that Germany had asked the IAEA to review Iran's nuclear activities and would determine with its European partners whether "the EU-3's negotiations still have a foundation."

Sanctions futile

Meanwhile, influential former Iranian president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani yesterday dismissed as futile any move to slap sanctions on Iran for its nuclear fuel program.

"Adopting harsh measures like imposing sanctions cannot bring about the desired outcome," Rafsanjani said at Tehran University in a sermon to mark the Muslim Eid al-Adha festival. "We will stand by our right to nuclear technology."

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