Pressure grows on Iran as UN passes 'historic' nuclear resolution

Pressure mounted on Iran yesterday to halt its nuclear programme as world leaders at the United Nations warned of the threat posed by Tehran to a global consensus on disarmament.

President Obama praised the unanimous passing of a “historic” UN Security Council resolution aimed at ridding the world of nuclear weapons — but the spectre of the unsolved crisis over Iran’s nuclear ambitions loomed over the meeting, prompting President Sarkozy of France to caution against symbolic gestures at the expense of tough action.

“We’re living in the real world,” Mr Sarkozy said, turning to face Mr Obama, the first US president to chair the Security Council. “President Obama has said himself, ‘I dream of a world without nuclear weapons’. But two countries are doing the exact opposite right now. There will come a moment when we’ll have to agree and take sanctions.”

Gordon Brown said that the Iranian nuclear crisis was coming to a head and indicated that “far tougher sanctions” must await Iran if it failed to answer international concerns at a pivotal meeting with Western powers next week. The calls to action came a day after Russia finally conceded that sanctions may be inevitable, after intense lobbying by the Americans. Iran reacted angrily to the British and French statements, saying the assertion that it was covertly developing nuclear weapons was “totally untrue and without any foundation”. Earlier this month, however, the UN nuclear watchdog admitted it could not rule out a military dimension and said Western intelligence on an Iranian weapons programme was “compelling”.

Russia’s apparent shift robs Tehran of one of its most entrenched supporters. Israel, which has warned that it will attack Iran if the international community’s efforts prove ineffective, hailed the Russian shift. “This may be the day that marks the beginning of the United Nations and the people gathering together to stop the Iranians,” Daniel Ayalon, the Deputy Foreign Minister, said.

In his Assembly address, however, Binyamin Netanyahu, the Israeli Prime Minister, bluntly challenged the international community to stop Iran acquiring nuclear weapons. “Is the Security Council up to that?” he asked.

China remains the last of the five permanent members of the Security Council opposed to sanctions — and it voiced that position from Beijing yesterday. It might, however, be reluctant to veto a vote backed by Russia and could yet be persuaded to simply abstain.

The aligning of world powers behind tough action on Iran sets the scene for a showdown in Turkey on October 1, when representatives of the “E3 plus 3” — the five veto-wielding powers and Germany — meet Iranian officials in the first direct talks between the US and Iran in 30 years.

The E3 plus 3 issued a statement after Wednesday’s meeting saying that they expected a “serious response” to their questions over military dimensions to Tehran’s nuclear programmes and that the answers would determine the course of action ahead — including possible tough sanctions.

Iran, however, is “giving very little away” about how it intends to respond, David Miliband, the British Foreign Secretary, told The Times after a meeting with his Iranian counterpart.

Yesterday the Iranian mission to the UN announced that it was committed to talks and global nuclear non-proliferation but said that negotiations would fail if its interlocutors persisted with “illegal demands”. Iran regards the demand for it to stop enriching uranium as a breach of its right to develop a civilian nuclear programme for the production of energy.

“The Islamic Republic of Iran reiterates its readiness to engage in serious and constructive negotiations with interested parties,” the mission said after the Security Council debate. “At the same time, we believe that as a prerequisite for success in future negotiations, futile and illegal demands of the past years that have proven to be of no avail should be abandoned.”

In an interview on the Assembly sidelines, however, President Ahmadinejad indicated that he planned to stretch the negotiations by demanding that Western powers supply him with highly enriched uranium. The E3 plus 3 say they will help Iran with its civilian nuclear energy programme if it stops enrichment and satisfies concerns over nuclear weapons.

Mr Ahmadinejad insisted that he wanted uranium enriched to 20 per cent only — well below the 90 per cent required for weapons — for a small research reactor. Current UN sanctions forbid the sale or transfer of nuclear goods or technology to Iran and until now it has produced only low-enriched uranium. A refusal to bend the sanctions rules could be used as a pretext for Iran to produce its own highly enriched material.

Advocates of non-proliferation warned that a failure to confront Iran and North Korea over their nuclear programmes could derail the larger global disarmament effort passed with such fanfare yesterday. The largely symbolic resolution endorses a global effort to lock down vulnerable nuclear materials and strengthens the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Russia and the US are also expected to agree, by the end of the year, on reductions to their nuclear arsenals.


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