West can only wait

BERLIN — The West has no choice but to wait as Tehran plays for time and considers an offer of incentives from six major powers aimed at resolving its nuclear standoff, Western diplomats and analysts said.

The latest deadline for Iran to respond to last month’s offer from Germany and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council is July 12, three days before leaders from the Group of Eight (G-8) industrial nations meet in Russia.

If Iran has not suspended its uranium enrichment programme by then to enable negotiations on the package to commence, the United States wants to resume work on a UN Security Council resolution opening the door to economic and political sanctions.

US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said in a television programme to be aired on Sunday that if Tehran continued enriching uranium after July 12, world powers would “probably consider some of the measures that have to do with action by the Security Council.” The five permanent council members — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — halted work on a resolution in May to allow Germany, France and Britain — the “EU3” — to prepare an incentives package to persuade Iran to suspend atomic enrichment, which many fear could give Tehran atom bomb fuel.

Iran, which says its nuclear aims are peaceful and refuses to stop enriching, has said it would not respond to the offer before August 22. Despite all their deadlines, diplomats from G-8 countries say they have no choice but to sit tight and wait.

“There is no deadline with a trigger. We’re not going to resume work on the resolution if Iran hasn’t responded [by July 12], no matter what people say to the contrary. The Russians and Chinese will not want to do anything as long as Iran appears to be seriously studying the offer,” said a European G-8 diplomat.

“Iran holds all the cards,” he added.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Jiang Fu said Beijing hoped Iran would take heed of the international community’s concerns and respond quickly. But China also hoped “that the other sides will exercise patience and restraint,” she said.

G-8 summit:  ‘Nothing can happen’

Leaders of the G-8 — the United States, Canada, Britain, France, Italy, Japan, Germany and Russia — had hoped to use the summit to issue strong words on Iran. But with Tehran delaying its response, little of substance can come out of the summit.

“Iran is clearly playing for time. Everyone in the  G-8 knows that… But nothing can happen with Iran because everybody agreed that we should wait until it’s clear what Iran’s response is going to be,” a senior Western G-8 diplomat told Reuters.

Rather any G-8 language on Iran will likely echo comments made last week in Moscow, expressing “disappointment” while urging Tehran to respond as soon as possible, diplomats said.

Several diplomats, all speaking on condition of anonymity, complained about the lack of coordination in setting so-called unofficial deadlines for Iran to respond.

Last week G-8 foreign ministers said they wanted a response from Iran at a July 5 meeting between EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani.

Solana’s spokeswoman reiterated this view on Tuesday.

Previous deadlines named by G-8 officials were last week’s G-8 foreign ministers meeting, then the July 15-17 summit.

Western deadlines are ‘bluster’

Alexander Pikayev, a senior analyst at Moscow’s Institute of World Economy and International Relations, said Washington and some EU capitals might want the Security Council to take up the Iran issue again and consider sanctions.

“But it is evident that Russia and China and a host of other countries will probably say that until Iran’s answer all that is too early,” Pikayev said.

A diplomat from the Vienna-based UN nuclear watchdog called the deadlines “bluster… to keep the pressure on, to remind the Iranians that they’re [the West] serious about taking other action if the Iranians turn the offer down.” But none of the diplomats who spoke to Reuters expected Iran to say “No” to the offer, as it would prompt the Russians and Chinese to back the Western call for sanctions.

“I don’t think they would say ‘No’, and I think it’s hard to expect a clear ‘Yes’. Rather they’ll try to drag out the process, a method that has worked successfully for over three years,” an EU diplomat said.

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