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Sanctions weighed again on Iran

'Disappointing' talks between Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and the EU's Javier Solana prompt concern.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / December 3, 2007

Tehran, Iran; and Istanbul, Turkey

Six world powers led by the United States are considering a further set of UN sanctions against Iran over its disputed nuclear program, after European foreign-policy chief Javier Solana said he was "disappointed" with five hours of talks with Iran on Friday.

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Iranian leaders have vowed never again to suspend uranium enrichment, as demanded by the United Nations' Security Council, citing increased cooperation with the UN's nuclear watchdog agency that they believe should allay fears about Iran's nuclear ambitions. Iran's new top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, had promised to bring "new initiatives" to the meeting.

But with no date set for future meetings, the failure of the talks stalls an 18-month Western effort to impose limits on Iran's disputed nuclear program.

A fresh UN sanctions resolution is likely to be circulated this week that would add to two modest UN measures already in place. The US recently slapped on unilateral sanctions; veto-wielding Russia and China, which both do extensive business with Iran, have yet to voice support.

"Everybody's got to take a deep breath, step back, and adopt a new approach to negotiations, which recognizes the main issue is about stopping the Iranians from acquiring weapons – not about enrichment per se," says Gareth Evans, president of the International Crisis Group, who was in Tehran meeting with senior Iranian officials.

The five permanent members of the Security Council, plus Germany, met Saturday to consider next steps on Iran's program. Iran continues to report significant progress in enrichment and demands that its nuclear dossier be removed from the Council agenda.

The US says Iran will "never be allowed" to acquire the bomb, and refuses to rule out a military option.

The latest UN report on Iran's nuclear program, in mid-November, is among the most positive to date, noting that Iran had worked to resolve remaining questions, though it had not been "proactive" in doing so.

The West, says Mr. Evans, a former Australian foreign minister, should recognize that its negotiating strategy has been "spectacularly unsuccessful so far, [during] which Iran has moved from essentially zero centrifuge capability to 3,000" spinning centrifuges. Those centrifuges can enrich uranium into fuel for energy, at a low level, or into material for a weapon, at a far higher level.

But the bar has also been raised for Iran, says Evans. For years, it failed to declare sensitive parts of its program, and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has been unbendingly defiant. That means, Evans says, that "in order to satisfy people, [Iran has] got to be prepared, given all their past history, to accept a much more intrusive [inspection] regime."

That means going beyond the safeguards of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to which Iran is a signatory, and even beyond the provisions of the Additional Protocol, which include snap inspections. For a time, Iran voluntarily embraced the protocol, but stopped after its nuclear dossier was referred to the Security Council.

Iran denies it wants a nuclear weapon. In a letter Friday to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran had "no difficulty with taking transparency measures," had gone "far beyond its treaty obligations," and that International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors had carried out 2,500 days' worth of inspections to confirm that "allegations [of a military program] have been completely baseless."