- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 17, 2006

LONDON — European powers yesterday began drafting a resolution to have Iran referred to the U.N. Security Council next month over its contentious nuclear work, after Russia and the West neared agreement on strategy.

The Foreign & Commonwealth Office in London said Britain, Germany and France would call for an emergency meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s 35-nation Board of Governors in Vienna, Austria, on Feb. 2 and Feb. 3. A vote on sending Iran to the Security Council could be held then.

Iran’s resumption of nuclear research that could advance a quest for civilian atomic energy or bombs has sparked a flurry of Western diplomacy in pursuit of an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) referral to the council, which could impose sanctions.

R. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs who represented the United States at the meeting yesterday of the five permanent Security Council members and Germany, said he hoped the IAEA would refer Iran to the council.

“The U.S. remains convinced that Iran is a threat to the international community, and it should immediately cease all activity related to its enrichment program,” he said. “We remain very seriously concerned by the Iranian actions in recent weeks.”

The five veto-holding council members are Britain, France, Russia, China and the United States.

After Russia said it was “very close” to Western views on Iran, which favor diplomatic action to curb Tehran’s atomic project, Germany, France and Britain began drafting a referral resolution to submit to the IAEA board, EU diplomats said.

“It’s short. It calls for [IAEA Director-General Mohamed] ElBaradei to report Iran to the Security Council,” one diplomat said.

Moscow, with a $1 billion stake in building Iran’s first atomic reactor, and Beijing, reliant on Iranian oil imports, have thwarted such a step by the IAEA Board of Governors.

But EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said in New York yesterday that he was confident China and Russia would back the European bloc in sending the issue to the Security Council.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signaled a change when he said after talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Moscow: “As for Russia, and Germany and our European partners and the United States, we have very close positions on the Iranian problem.”

It was the clearest hint yet that Moscow, which, as Iran’s main energy partner, wields the greatest potential foreign leverage over Tehran, was losing patience with the Islamic republic since it resumed nuclear fuel research last week.

However, Mr. Putin also warned that the issue should be resolved “without abrupt, erroneous steps” — a possible nod to concerns that a rapid push toward U.N. sanctions could backfire.

“We must move very carefully in this area,” he said.

Iran’s ambassador to Moscow, Gholamreza Ansari, welcomed Mr. Putin’s offer from late last year to enrich uranium for Iran in Russia, an initiative that could allay international concern.

“This is a good initiative to find a way out of this situation. We think that Iran and Russia should find a way out together,” the Itar-Tass news agency quoted Mr. Ansari as saying in comments broadcast on Russia’s state-owned Channel One television.

There was no comment yesterday from China. Beijing said last week that resorting to the Security Council might “complicate the issue,” citing Iran’s threat to hit back by halting snap U.N. inspections of its atomic plants.

Diplomats said the resolution drafting was at an early stage and that the West, keen on broad unanimity for referral, would sound out developing states on the IAEA board, such as South Africa, Libya and Cuba, seen up to now as likely to vote against such a resolution.

Iran, the world’s fourth-largest exporter of crude oil, has warned that any attempt to isolate the country could drive up world energy prices, damaging industrialized economies.

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