Paul Richter – Los Angeles Times November 2, 2010
Western powers' strong new sanctions on Iran have so far failed to push Tehran's leaders toward compromise on their disputed nuclear program, a senior European diplomat said Tuesday.
In a grim assessment, the European official said that while the economic punishments clearly have inflicted pain on Iran, there has been no signal from its leaders that they are willing to yield ground to relieve the international pressure.
Though Iran officially has been calling for new negotiations over its program, the diplomat said he had not seen a single statement to indicate a change in its leaders' political views on the nuclear program. Instead, some voices within Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's regime insist there is "no way" they will give ground, and that "there is no need for a meeting," he said.
Since the imposition of the latest sanctions last summer, "the whole question has been, 'Is that going to create a new political situation?'" the diplomat told a group of reporters. "We haven't seen anything yet."
The official spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
Many countries believe Iran is pursuing a nuclear program to acquire the know-how to build weapons; the Iranian government insists it is interested only in peaceful nuclear projects.
In June, the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran that focused on individuals and companies with ties to its nuclear and military programs. Later in the summer, the United States, the European Union, Canada, Australia, South Korea and other industrialized nations added tougher unilateral sanctions, which hit harder at Iran's lucrative energy sector, its trade and ties to international finance.
By most accounts the Iranian economy, which already had serious problems, has been further damaged by the second set of sanctions.
Yet the effect has been reduced by the willingness of some developing countries – all of which objected to the unilateral sanctions – to keep doing some business with the Islamic Republic's lucrative energy sector. These include China, Russia, Turkey, India and Brazil.
Iranian officials recently indicated that they are willing to restart talks on their nuclear program with world powers after Nov. 10, although key details of the negotiations remain unresolved.
The European diplomat said that in the last five years, Western attempts to negotiate with Iran have fallen into a fruitless pattern: Tehran will be coaxed to meet with foreign diplomats twice, but when a third meeting approaches "it will all peter out." So far, he said, it appears the latest proposed talks may follow the same routine.
The official said he saw no reason to believe that threats of Western military force would change Tehran's thinking. Talk of the military option "hasn't moved in any way the Iranian regime," he said.
U.S. officials generally have been more optimistic on the prospects for negotiating, stressing that sanctions by the U.S., Europeans and the United Nations have cut off financial and trade ties and hurt the country's lucrative energy business.
The European diplomat said a group of world powers is still debating how to frame another long-discussed proposal, which would give Iran isotopes for medical treatments in its hospitals if it agreed to temporarily surrender part of its stockpile of nuclear material.
The deal's goal would be to limit how many nuclear weapons Iran could build. But since the idea was first floated a year ago, Iran has continued to accumulate uranium, substantially increasing its supply.
Now the so-called Vienna Group – the United States, France, Russia and the United Nation's nuclear agency – are debating how much material they want Iran to surrender, and where they would store it, the diplomat said. Since Iran now has more uranium, the group wants it to surrender more.
Iran's representative to the U.N.'s nuclear agency was quoted Tuesday as rejecting that suggestion.
"I'm afraid there is no logic for these kinds of statements," Ali Asghar Soltanieh, the Iranian representative, told Reuters in Vienna.
Last updated 03/11/2010