U.N. Powers Plot Next Step with Iran

Senior foreign ministry officials from the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany are meeting in Paris. They're seeking agreement on a new U.N. Security Council resolution about Iran's nuclear program. Tehran says its nuclear development is intended to make electricity for civilian use, not atomic weapons.

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JOHN YDSTIE, host:

Diplomats from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, along with Germany, are in Paris today to try to decide how to deal with Iran's nuclear program. The meeting was called in response to a report by the International Atomic Energy Agency. It said Iran is in violation of the U.N. order that it stop enriching uranium. Iran says that its nuclear enrichment program is for peaceful purposes only, but Washington insists Tehran's true goal is to develop nuclear weapons.

NPR's Rob Gifford is in Paris covering the talks. And he joins us now. Rob, what's the focus of this meeting?

GIFFORD: Well, this meeting in Paris is to try and set some kind of timetable for the next few weeks, at least. That resolution that the report on Friday found Iran to be in violation of was, in fact, not a binding resolution; it was a statement from the U.N. Security Council. What the U.S., the U.K., and France, want now is a binding resolution before the U.N. Security Council under--crucially under Chapter seven of the U.N. Charter.

And this is the chapter, which authorizes some kind of economic sanctions, or possibly military action against Iran; although, no one thinks that it will quite get to that on this issue--that the U.N. would ever authorize that. But that's what they're trying to do, is get a timetable for the next couple of months.

YDSTIE: Britain and France are joining the U.S. in seeking a strong response to Iran's position. Are they likely to get it?

GIFFORD: Well, the crucial two in all of this are the Chinese and the Russians. The French, and the British, and the Americans, as you say, are all on the same side on this. But Beijing and Moscow are trying to balance their interests here. They don't want to be seen to be blocking what Washington is trying to do. And they don't want to be seen to be condoning illegal Iranian nuclear development. But, at the same time, they have big economic interests in Iran. China gets a lot of oil from Iran.

And also, I think, there's a matter of principle here. The Chinese, especially, feel they don't like the tone of the way Washington does things. And there's a principle here that they don't want to see Iran being pushed around. So it's a matter of whether France, Britain and the U.S. can persuade the Chinese and the Russians to go along.

YDSTIE: And what's Iran been saying about all of this?

GIFFORD: Well, Iran has maintained all along, of course, that it only wants to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, for power, for electricity creation. Their top nuclear negotiator came out today, again with a very strong worded statement against Washington, saying that the U.S. unwillingness to rule out military strikes is, as he put it, illegal threats in contempt of international law. So there is strong rhetoric on the Iranian side, as there is on the U.S. side. And I don't think either side looks like they're going to back down.

YDSTIE: So what happens if the demands by the United States, Britain and France, aren't met?

GIFFORD: Well, what happens is that we're going to go down this diplomatic road for some way. I think it's going to be quite a long, hot summer, as they go down trying to get a U.N. binding resolution. But if that doesn't happen, what might be left for Washington to do is unilateral. Unilateral sanctions. And they may try and organize some kind of coalition of the willing to do that without any kind of U.N. support.

YDSTIE: NPR's Rob Gifford in Paris, where he's covering today's meeting of foreign diplomats discussing Iran's nuclear enrichment activities. Thanks, Rob.

GIFFORD: Thanks very much, John.

YDSTIE: You're listening to MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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