Iran-EU talks' message worries Israel

Officials say it's time to disengage from the Iranians, not begin negotiations.

iran fm 298.88 (photo credit: Associated Press)
iran fm 298.88
(photo credit: Associated Press)
Israeli officials expressed "disappointment" Monday that the EU was holding talks in Brussels with Iran's foreign minister, saying this was the time to disengage from the Iranians, not enter into a dialogue with them. According to the officials, the visit by the Iranian foreign minister to Brussels, as well as a visit by an Iranian delegation to Russia to discuss Moscow's proposal that Russia enrich uranium for Iran, was meant to buy Teheran more time. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) is to meet on March 6 and is expected to vote again on referring Iran to the UN. The concern among some circles in Jerusalem is that this would be more difficult were the Iranians to agree to the Russian compromise or show positive signs to the Europeans. Iran's Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters at a press conference in Brussels that moves by European Union governments and the US to take the dispute to the UN Security Council was unjustified and unfair. "Nuclear weapons is not in Iran's defense doctrine," Mottaki said at the Iranian Embassy in Brussels. "We would like to enjoy our right to have nuclear energy for peaceful purposes." Mottaki, who was accompanied by two nuclear negotiators, was in Brussels for talks with senior European Union officials, including foreign policy chief Javier Solana. He also met briefly with Belgium's Foreign Minister Karel De Gucht. Israeli officials said these talks represented "negative movement" because they created the impression among the Iranians that they still had some "wiggle room." The officials said that Jerusalem's concerns were relayed to the Europeans through the appropriate channels. Parallel nuclear talks were also underway in Moscow between Iranian and Russian officials. Mottaki said that the 25-nation bloc and Washington had to put the option of sanctions to one side and concentrate on getting a negotiated settlement. "The time for using language of threats is over; it's time for negotiation," Mottaki said. "We express our readiness for negotiations based on justice and a comprehensive compromise. We want to peacefully solve the problem.... We are here to hear any new plans, any new proposal, any new ideas." The EU said it had "no wish to isolate Iran" and reiterated it too was looking for a diplomatic solution to the dispute. "There remains a strong wish for a diplomatic solution. We have no wish to isolate Iran; we hope Iran will not choose to isolate itself," said European Commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin. In Moscow, talks were focused on a Russian offer to enrich uranium for Iran, in what is seen as a final opportunity for the Islamic regime to avoid the threat of international sanctions. "If we reach some compromise ... we can continue our cooperation from where we are now," said Mottaki. "It means the research department continues its activity and Russia's proposal is for major nuclear fuel production." He said the government in Teheran remained optimistic a deal could be reached. "We are diplomats. We would like to be optimistic, definitely," Mottaki said. The IAEA reported Iran to the UN Security Council earlier this month over its failure to address international concerns about its nuclear program. Both Russia and China, permanent members of the Security Council who have veto power there, voted in favor of reporting Iran to the Security Council, but pushed for the issue to be delayed until after another IAEA meeting in March, apparently in the hope that, by then, the Iranians would have accepted the Russian compromise to enrich uranium. Israeli officials said it was likely that another vote would be needed on the 35-body Board of Governors when it meets in early March, and that the developments over the next few days could go a long way in determining whether the issue will finally be taken up by the Security Council. Even then, the officials said, referral to the Security Council was only the first step in a "very long corridor" to keeping Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.