EU-3 call for toughening sanctions on Iran amid diplomatic stalemate

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The British, French and German foreign ministers called Friday for intensifying European Union sanctions on Iran, as western powers sought to show resolve in the face of Iran’s nuclear defiance and deter possible Israeli military action.

“It is necessary to increase pressure on Iran, to intensify sanctions, to add further to EU sanctions that are already enforced,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague told reporters ahead of an informal meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Cyprus Friday, Reuters reported.

“Sanctions are necessary and soon. I can’t see there is really a constructive will on the Iranian side for substantial talks,” German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle told Reuters.

The United States has also prepared a new file of sanctions that are aimed at squeezing Iranian financial reserves, diplomatic sources told Al-Monitor.

The show of resolve came as nuclear negotiations between six world powers and Iran remain at an impasse. Three rounds of meetings this year, and European oil sanctions that went into effect in July,  have so far failed to persuade Iran to agree to international demands that it “stop, ship and shut” its higher level 20% uranium enrichment activities and close its fortified Fordow enrichment facility. Iran has said it would be willing to discuss ending its 20% enrichment but wants recognition of its right to lower level enrichment for energy purposes, and sanctions relief.

Political directors from the P5+1, conferring in a conference call last week, decided not to hold another P5+1/Iran meeting at this time, the diplomatic sources said.

Of the six nations that make up the group–the United States, UK, France, Germany, China and Russia–only Moscow’s envoy expressed support for another meeting, a western diplomatic source told Al-Monitor on condition of anonymity. “Even the Chinese opposed” a meeting now, as no success is expected.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton told foreign ministers she’d urged Iran, in a phone call with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator early last month, “to look very carefully at the proposals that have been put forward by the E3+3, so that we can now move forward.”

“Some ministers discussed the possibility of further sanctions,” an EU diplomat told Al-Monitor Friday. “I guess we will come back to this issue as not all ministers spoke, so it’s hard to judge whether there’s consensus or not.”

The EU-3 foreign minister statements Friday were largely intended to rally internal European resolve. They are “a joint reminder…that pressure is needed at the highest level…and to keep all of them motivated despite the adverse economic effect,” a second European diplomat told Al-Monitor Friday on condition of anonymity. “In terms of new sanctions, the thinking is in progress …In the meantime, we need to make sure there is no loophole.”

Efforts by the UN atomic watchdog agency to get access to an Iranian military base are similarly at an impasse. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported in August that Iran had been engaging in an extensive clean up at the Parchin base, which some agency inspectors suspect may have been previously used to test a nuclear explosive device. Iran insists that its nuclear program is for peaceful energy purposes.

“Basically the IAEA track is stuck and very much linked to progress in P5+1 talks,” the diplomat said. “The “Iranians are blocking everything on the IAEA track.” Continue reading

Former nuclear watchdog: IAEA should offer Iran “grace period” for disclosures, extended access

Last month, Pierre Goldschmidt, the former deputy director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), proposed a solution to one of the trickiest parts of the Iran nuclear diplomacy puzzle. In short, why should Iran confess alleged past research on suspected military dimensions of its nuclear program to the IAEA, if doing so will almost certainly lead, at this stage, to new sanctions, punitive measures and isolation?

Goldschmidt’s idea, outlined in a paper and speech to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly in Estonia last month, would make sense to any US defense attorney or prosecutor: essentially, offer Iran a “grace period” to confess to the IAEA, and the disclosures acknowledged would not be punished.

“On the contrary, Iran should be assured that it will be praised for its cooperation with the IAEA,” Goldschmidt wrote, as was the case for Libya after it acknowledged a nuclear weapons program in 2004. “Without such a grace period, it is unlikely that Iran would fully cooperate with the IAEA or voluntarily declare any past violations.”

(Should evidence later emerge that it had withheld information, that would be cause for additional sanctions, however, the other part of Goldschmidt’s suggestion goes.)

The “grace period,” Goldschmidt argues, should be granted to Iran as soon as it formally agrees to offer extended access rights to IAEA inspectors at least for a period of time.

The logic of such an arrangement is multiple: it incentivizes Iran to come clean, offers it a pathway in from the cold if it is interested. It could also help rebuild confidence and restore damaged relations between Tehran and the nuclear watchdog agency.

“Such disclosures could be very beneficial for confidence building,” Goldschmidt wrote. “If Iran were to admit that it had been working towards becoming a nuclear threshold state and has undertaken some weaponization activities in the past, it would help persuade the international community that this time, Tehran has indeed opted for full cooperation and transparency.”

The arrangement would also overcome a weakness inherent to the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT), he said.

“Any state can become a nuclear threshold state”—which he defined as a country which has the capacity to build one or more nuclear devices in less than one year—“without being in breach of the NPT,” the former IAEA safeguards chief said in a telephone interview from Brussels Tuesday. Continue reading