Talks to resolve Iran crisis reach stalemate

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The Independent Online

Efforts to resolve the crisis over Iran's nuclear programme were at an impasse last night as Britain hosted talks with countries including Russia and China over moves to refer Tehran to the UN Security Council.

A last-ditch diplomatic flurry in Brussels achieved nothing, the French Foreign Minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, said after talks between French, British and German officials and Iran's deputy nuclear negotiator, Javad Vaedi.

Germany's Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said there were "no new proposals" from the Iranians. M. Douste-Blazy added: "Iran has challenged the entire international community. [It] has to respond to that challenge with firmness and efficiency."

Despite the tough rhetoric, a European Union statement stopped short of calling for Tehran's formal referral to the United Nations. Iran is seeking to head off any move by the International Atomic Energy Agency to report it to the Security Council when the IAEA's governing board holds talks in Vienna on Thursday.

The Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, hosted crisis talks over dinner last night with Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, and the foreign ministers of Germany, France, China and Russia. Mr Straw is seeking the support of China and Russia for a referral to the Security Council, but that remains unlikely and last night British ministers were not holding out hope of a breakthrough.

The Russians have offered to oversee the enrichment of uranium in Russia for the Iranians, but British diplomats accuse the Iranians of playing for time. "Iran has been making threats to withdraw cooperation with the IAEA. They are now threatening to pull out of an additional protocol. We expect there will be a lot of flak in the run-up to Thursday's board meeting of the IAEA but the UK, France and Germany are sticking to the line that they support a reference to the Security Council that they agreed at the Berlin ministerial meeting a few weeks ago," said a senior British source.

Mr Straw said: "There's going to be some intense diplomacy, but we have an emergency board meeting on 2 and 3 February, and the issue before us is do we, if there's no change in the uranium position, seek a resolution to refer the matter to the Security Council at that stage or is it delayed until the 6 March meeting."

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "Angela Merkel [the German Chancellor] underlined the emerging consensus both about the seriousness of the issue we have to deal with and also about the way forward. Let's see where we are by the IAEA meeting on Thursday, but there is an emerging consensus about the significance of the issue."