EU under pressure to consider action against Iran
18 September 2007 BRUSSELS (AFP) - France is leading the calls for the European Union to consider new sanctions against Iran, outside of United Nations action.
18 September 2007
BRUSSELS (AFP) - France is leading the calls for the European Union to consider new sanctions against Iran, outside of United Nations action.
French pressure has grown since President Nicolas Sarkozy took power in May. But Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said Monday that European countries should prepare their own non-UN sanctions.
"These would be European sanctions that each country, individually, must put in place with its own banking, commercial and industrial system. The English and the Germans are interested in talking about this. We will try to find a common European position," Kouchner said.
Since Iran rejected a huge cooperation deal in return for freezing uranium enrichment activities in 2006, the 27 EU nations have pursued a twin-track diplomatic approach, supporting UN sanctions while keeping the door open to dialogue with the Iranian leaders.
In the name of Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana has held regular talks with Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani.
Iran maintains that its nuclear programme is aimed at generating electricity but the United States and others accuse Tehran of covertly developing atomic weapons.
"While the priority had been to act within the boundaries of the United Nations, eventual non-UN sanctions are no longer a taboo subject," said a European official.
Kouchner warned on Sunday that "we have to prepare for the worst, and the worst is war."
France wants the EU to prepare sanctions against Iran, outside the UN Security Council, to force Tehran to forsake its nuclear ambitions, he added.
"We have decided, while negotiations are continuing... to prepare eventual sanctions outside the ambit of UN sanctions. Our good friends, the Germans, suggested that," he said.
His comments reflect concerns that Russia and China -- veto-wielding UN Security Council members -- oppose a third UN resolution on sanctions against Iran.
Sarkozy's line has found some sympathetic ears in Europe, not least from Britain.
On Monday, the Dutch Foreign Minister Maxime Verhagen also lent support.
She said that if the UN Security Council did not agree more sanctions, the Dutch government would be willing "to apply European Union sanctions in common with the United States sanctions."
But Austria and Germany took exception to Kouchner's talk of war.
"I can't comprehend why he is resorting to such martial rhetoric at this time," Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik said on the sidelines of a meeting of the UN's nuclear agency in Vienna.
"It's not right to talk of threats of war," echoed German foreign ministry spokesman Martin Jaeger.
A European diplomat said Berlin remained undecided on the idea of non-UN sanctions. Italy also spoke out against Kouchner's "war" comment.
EU diplomats are also anxious to avoid a repetition of Europe's painful 2003 policy split over the US-led intervention in Iraq.
The French line was already in evidence during a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's (IAEA) 35-nation board of governors in Vienna on September 11.
UN nuclear chief Mohamed ElBaradei walked out on the session following a speech by Portuguese ambassador Joaquim Duarte, representing the EU, which used unusually tough language against Iran and was deemed less than supportive of the IAEA's work.
The positions of the EU nations will become clearer in coming days, with a new IAEA meeting being held in Vienna this week and the six major powers to meet in Washington on September 21.
Subject: German news