Europeans watch as Obama plays waiting game on Iran
Paris -- European powers seeking a hard line on Iran's nuclear plans are now caught between China and Russia, which oppose sanctions, and the United States, which is playing a waiting game, experts said Wednesday.
"The Americans don’t know what to do any more," said a European official who asked not to be named. "They’re looking for a way out but all there is a black hole."
US President Barack Obama said during his election campaign and in the early months of his presidency this year that he would be willing to sit down for talks with Iran, which is suspected of building a nuclear bomb.
He gave Iran a deadline of September to respond to the offer, but Washington said this week that the latest package of proposals from Tehran on its nuclear programme fell short of US expectations.
The UN General Assembly next week and a subsequent G20 summit in Pittsburgh had been seen as a chance for world powers to discuss whether to move ahead with a tough new regime of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear programme.
But earlier this month at a meeting of the six world powers tackling the Iranian nuclear crisis, Russia and China refused to consider new economic sanctions against the Islamic republic.
Faced with the failure of his outstretched hand policy, "the only way for the US president to save face was to say: ‘Let’s continue the dialogue,’" said Denis Bauchard of the French Institute of International Affairs (IFRI).
"It’s the opposite of the situation two or three years ago," said Pascal Boniface of the Paris-based International and Strategical Relations Institute (IRIS).
"(Then) the Europeans were ready to negotiate and the Bush administration was taking a hard line," he said.
Iran is already under three sets of UN sanctions slapped for its refusal to abandon the sensitive uranium enrichment programme, the process which produces nuclear fuel or, in highly extended form, the fissile core of an atomic bomb.
It maintains its programme aims to develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
Tehran this week handed over its latest package of proposals to representatives from the US, Britain, Russia, France, China and Germany — the so-called P5+1 group.
But while the package attempts to address the issue of global nuclear disarmament it avoids mentioning Iran’s own atomic programme, including its uranium enrichment drive.
Iran and representatives of the six world powers are to meet on October 1, probably in Turkey, to discuss Tehran’s latest proposals.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Tuesday that Iran must answer "head on" concerns about its nuclear programme at the October talks. But she conceded it was difficult to predict what will emerge from the meeting.
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner gave a much more downbeat prediction, saying he expected nothing of substance to be decided.