6 powers back US-Iran direct talks

Israeli official: We trust Obama on Iran, EU support for talks isn't sign of US weakness on issue.

By HAVIV RETTIG GUR, HILARY LEILA KRIEGER, BENJAMIN WEINTHAL AP
February 4, 2009 16:35
4 minute read.
6 powers back US-Iran direct talks

iran nuclear new 224.88. (photo credit: AP [file])

 
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A senior Israeli official expressed confidence on Wednesday that Israel "can depend" on the Obama administration and "most of the Europeans" to see the Iranian threat for what it is. Diplomatic officials from Germany and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the US, Britain, France, China and Russia - meeting in Wiesbaden, near Frankfurt, on Wednesday, welcomed the declared willingness of the new American administration to conduct a dialogue with Iran. The six Western powers are known as the P5+1 group. "The readiness of the new administration to reach out to Iran was explicitly welcomed by all at today's meeting in Wiesbaden," German Foreign Ministry spokesman Jens Ploetner said in Berlin, adding that Germany hoped Iran would not see "this outstretched hand" as a "sign of weakness." According to the Israeli official, the European support for a US-Iranian dialogue does not reflect any US softness on Iran. "If they think Obama is some Scandinavian pacifist, then they don't understand the steel behind this man," he said. "The Europeans are wondering if a new page should be opened in relations with Iran, but it is Iran that has shown an unwavering position in rejecting all European overtures." According to the official, "I think we can depend on Obama and most of the Europeans. The Europeans are divided over this issue right now, but the US administration will probably have a clearer understanding of the situation. Even if it makes a tactical [effort at dialogue], in the end it will prevent Iran from going nuclear." The most important indication of Obama's policy toward Iran is the appointments he will make to key diplomatic and strategic-planning posts in the coming weeks, the official added. The US was represented at Wednesday's closed-doors meeting by the State Department's third-ranking official, Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns - a career diplomat who also served under the Bush administration. The US held "very positive and thorough discussions" with its P5+1 counterparts on Iran's nuclear program on Wednesday, in which the body reaffirmed its long-standing policy toward Teheran, according to the State Department. The five-hour discussion affirmed "the importance of the dual track approach with regard to Iran," State Department acting spokesman Robert Wood said, referring to the strategy in which Iran was offered incentives on engagement at the same time that sanctions and other pressures are applied so long as it does not stop enriching uranium. He also stressed that the Islamic Republic needed to meet its obligations under the UN its nuclear watchdog, the IAEA. Wood said, though, that there would be no further meetings of the forum until the US prepared its new Iran policy, currently under review. He said that while no decisions had been taken, other P5+1 members welcomed the new administrations plans to engage in talks with Iran. Wood added that the international group's members would communicate by phone in the meantime. One thing the review will cover was the failed visa requests of the US women's badminton team, which had been due to travel to Iran to participate in a competition next week. Wood announced on Wednesday that despite submitting their paperwork months in advance, they had not received the visas and were now heading back. The sporting event, intended partly as an example of the people-to-people exchanges the US is looking to foster as a way to reach out to Iran on the nongovernmental level, could set back the engagement effort on that front. "The fact that this happened is something we will look at," Wood said. "How much of an impact it will have on the review, it's hard for me to tell you at this point. But it's certainly not a good sign that this team was not able to obtain visas." Iran launched an Omid satellite on Monday - arousing concern among analysts and officials in Europe, the US and Israel about links between its satellite program and its work with missiles and nuclear technology. According to a German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, "a new direction" will be reached. The spokeswoman told The Jerusalem Post the five UN Security Council members plus Germany wanted to see "where they are" because Burns has more "options" available since Obama took office in January. When asked if Iran's launch of its first domestically produced satellite and its compatibility with nuclear military capability would be discussed, the spokeswoman said the satellite would "with certainty" be a topic for the session. In an e-mail to the Post, the spokeswoman wrote, "The political directors welcomed the willingness of the US administration, as expressed by President Obama, to engage in talks with Iran." The directors stressed in the statement "their common commitment to a diplomatic solution of the Iranian nuclear issue on the basis of the dual track strategy embodied in a series of United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions." The diplomats "urged Iran to cooperate with the IAEA" and said they would wait to proceed "as the US administration undertakes its policy review." Asked about a new round of sanctions on Teheran, the German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman declined to comment.

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