Iran could be west's trial run — Mbeki
25 May 2006
International Affairs Editor
WESTERN states could be putting pressure on Iran in a "trial run" to prevent countries without nuclear weapons from enriching uranium, President Thabo Mbeki said last night.
If Iran's peaceful nuclear ambitions were blocked, other signatories to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which include SA, might have to forgo this right at some stage, Mbeki said at a dinner in London.
In this light, he said, Iran's rights to the peaceful use of nuclear technology needed to be protected like those of other countries.
"So the Iran thing is not unique in itself, but is a pacesetter for (what) might happen in the future," he said.
"We believe that Iran's rights in this regard need to be protected. In part we are raising this because you get these whispers that Iran constitutes a trial run, and if there is success in terms of prohibiting Iran to do the things they are permitted by the (non-proliferation) treaty, that will be extended to all other countries."
Mbeki also warned that placing the Iranian nuclear programme before the United Nations (UN) Security Council could raise tension.
"You will have escalating actions taken by the security council which will lead to conflict that nobody should really want."
He said SA would prefer the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to handle the Iranian question.
Mbeki's remarks at the dinner, ahead of his meeting yesterday with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, highlighted the stark differences between SA and the UK, the other five permanent members of the security council and Germany, which are putting pressure on Iran to drop its uranium enrichment programme.
Earlier this year, SA abstained from an IAEA vote, which was passed, proposing that Iran be referred to the security council over its programme.
"So that you not only have a small club of nuclear weapon states, but then you also have a small club of countries that can do anything at all in terms of developing nuclear technology for peaceful purposes," Mbeki said. He also said that "in all our interactions, the Iranians will insist that they are committed" to peaceful nuclear use and pointed to ayatollahs having issued a fatwa against the production of nuclear weapons.
SA had undertaken to help in confidence-building measures to convince the international community that Iran's intentions were peaceful, Mbeki said.
Earlier in London, senior officials from security council permanent members and Germany met to weigh up a package of incentives and threats drafted by European Union (EU) leaders to defuse the nuclear stand-off with Iran, but both sides dampened hope of a breakthrough arrangement.
Iran says it has mastered a limited uranium enrichment cycle.
The EU package is likely to include an offer of a light-water reactor and an assured supply from abroad of fuel for civilian atomic plants so that Iran would not have to enrich uranium itself. The package will also warn of possible targeted sanctions if Iran, the world's fourth-biggest oil producer, refuses the offer.
Diplomats said they would first discuss sanctions aimed at officials involved in Iran's nuclear programme before seeking ways to halt trade deals.
But some EU officials, many security analysts and the IAEA say Washington should start direct dialogue with Iran after 26 years of official silence. They believe the only way to entice Iran back to good-faith negotiations and get it to stop seeking sensitive atomic know-how would be a US pledge not to try to topple Tehran's Islamic government.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei was expected to tell US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in talks in Washington yesterday that US-Iranian engagement was vital to resolving the crisis, said Vienna-based diplomats familiar with ElBaradei's thinking.
A defiant Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday urged "resistance" in the dispute, and said Iran would deliver a "historic slap in the face" to any state that tried to deprive it of nuclear technology .
In Washington, Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in an address to the US congress yesterday that Iran posed a threat to Israel's existence and urged swift international action.
"A nuclear Iran means a terrorist state could achieve the primary mission for which terrorists live and die: the mass destruction of innocent human life." With Reuters
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