A split has emerged in the coalition of Western powers pressuring Iran to freeze its nuclear enrichment program, as France backs US calls for a new round of sanctions while Germany urges restraint. The United States, Germany, France and Britain have led a diplomatic drive to punish Iran for refusing to halt its uranium enrichment program. They succeeded in persuading reluctant Russia and China to back two UN sanctions resolutions, but they can’t do the same for a third round of sanctions as Moscow and Beijing have both dismissed the option, specially after a recent agreement between Iran and the UN nuclear watchdog.
Despite the sanctions, which have led to a sharp decrease in Western trade with Iran, Tehran refuses to abandon a program it says is meant for the peaceful generation of electricity.
Washington believes the time has come to expand the sanctions and has called a September 21 meeting of the six powers to discuss a third sanctions resolution to submit to the UN Security Council.
France said on Friday it was ready to take fresh action.
“We wish to have new sanctions adopted, as a priority in the UN Security Council,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Frederic Desagneaux told a regular news conference in Paris.
Germany, however, said discussion of fresh sanctions would not be necessary if Iran cooperated with the United Nations and cleared up doubts about its nuclear program.
As a member of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Germany is open to “giving Iran a chance to recover the international community’s lost confidence in its nuclear program,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger said at a regular news conference.
“If Iran is ready to do this … then I think we can spare ourselves future sanctions debates.”
The IAEA, the UN watchdog, reached a deal with Tehran on August 21 meant to bring transparency to Iran’s nuclear program.
Diplomats say Berlin wants to delay drafting any sanctions resolution until after IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei gives a progress report to the agency’s board of governors in November.
Western diplomats in Vienna, where the IAEA has its headquarters, say they believe a new sanctions drive will be on hold pending a verdict from ElBaradei on the transparency pact.
Russia and China are in any case opposed to fresh sanctions.
“Whether you like it or not, it will be very difficult to get consensus … to return to the Security Council as long as the (Iran-IAEA) work plan has a chance,” a senior European diplomat in Vienna told Reuters.
Desagneaux said the IAEA deal was a step in the right direction but not enough as it did not address the suspension of Iran’s enrichment work as the Security Council has demanded.
He even suggested the European Union could adopt its own sanctions beyond what the United Nations has approved. “We remind you that there are already measures taken outside that framework, in the framework of the European Union,” he said.
Iran has said fresh sanctions could jeopardize the deal with the IAEA.
“If the Security Council tightens sanctions against Iran, then in the future our cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency will come to a halt,” Iran’s Interior Minister Mostafa Pour-Mohammadi said during a visit to Beijing.