World powers meet to discuss Iran’s nuclear program
Berlin -- Senior diplomats from six world powers met Wednesday for the first time under the new US administration to discuss Iran's nuclear ambitions, two days after Tehran launched its first satellite.
Political directors from the UN Security Council permanent members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany met in Wiesbaden near the western German city of Frankfurt.
The get-together comes two days after Iran set alarm bells ringing by launching a low Earth orbit satellite into space, technology the West fears Tehran could use in the future to carry nuclear warheads.
Iran insists its first home-built Omid (Hope) satellite, launched on Monday, has no military application, but Washington made clear it was unimpressed.
"This action does not convince us that Iran is acting responsibly to advance stability or security in the region," White House press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters on Tuesday. "Efforts to develop missile delivery capability, efforts to continue on an illicit nuclear program, or threats that Iran makes toward Israel and its sponsorship of terror are of acute concern to this administration.”
The launch "sends the wrong signal to the international community which has already passed five successive UN Security Council resolutions on Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile program," said British Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell on Tuesday.
Although the directors are in constant telephone and email contact about Iran’s nuclear program, Wednesday’s meeting marks the first face-to-face gathering since American President Barack Obama took office on January 20.
The talks began on Wednesday morning and lasted until early afternoon. The New York Times reported that the United States was being represented by Under Secretary of State William Burns.
The West suspects Iran of secretly trying to build an atomic bomb. The Islamic republic says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes and that it has the right to technology already in the hands of many other nations.
So far, the West has adopted a stick-and-carrot approach of applying sanctions on Iran while offering economic and energy incentives in exchange for not enriching uranium, used in either nuclear weapons or nuclear power.
Diplomatic ties between the United States and Iran have been frozen for three decades, but Obama has vowed to map out a new future for American relations with Iran.
In an interview with Al-Arabiya satellite television network, Obama said last week that Washington would offer Iran an "extended hand" if Iran’s leaders "unclenched their fist."
"Whether or not that hand becomes less clenched is really up to them,” said Hillary Clinton last week, in her first news briefing as Obama’s secretary of state. “But as we look at the opportunities available to us, we’re going to have a very broad survey of what we think we can do.”
Obama’s predecessor George W. Bush — who famously declared Iran part of an "axis of evil" — refused to talk to Tehran until it stopped sensitive nuclear fuel work.
The Obama White House has refused to rule out any options — including military strikes — to stop Tehran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, having earlier congratulated Obama on his election, came out with a fiery speech last Wednesday, demanding that he apologize for "crimes" against Iran and that he "stop supporting the Zionists."
The host country for Wednesday’s talks has come under fire for its trade ties with Iran, with government figures last month showing an embarrassing 10.5 percent leap in German exports there in the first 11 months of 2008.
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged Tehran to "seize the chance" offered by Obama’s readiness for direct talks, in comments published in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung. "Confrontation and strong words will achieve neither security nor wealth — also in Iran."