Refrain from military action on Iran: China-Russia

(source: Arab Times)
Saturday, May 24, 2008

TOKYO (Agencies): Chinese and Russian leaders called on all parties to refrain from military and extreme actions against Iran, official news agency Xinhua reported on Friday. “China and Russia propose the Iranian nuclear issue be resolved through dialogue and equal consultation,” said a joint statement signed in Beijing by Chinese President Hu Jintao and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

“All parties should consider global and regional security, make diplomatic efforts, refrain from military and extreme means, cautiously resort to sanctions and take into account the interests of the country involved,” said the statement, which came out of the two leaders’ two-hour talks in the Chinese capital. It said the same rules also apply to other urgent international issues concerning Iraq, reconstruction in Afghanistan, the Middle East, Kosovo, and Darfur, according to Xinhua.

In the seven-page statement, the two countries also expressed concerned about a US plan for a global missile defense system, saying, “The establishment of a global missile defense system is not conducive to strategic balance and stability, efforts on international arms control and non-proliferation, and mutual trust between nations and regional stability.” Medvedev, who arrived in Beijing on Friday afternoon, was the first head of state to visit China following an 8.0-magnitude earthquake that struck Sichuan Province on May 12. The European Union is preparing sanctions against Iran’s biggest bank but wants to see how Tehran responds to a new offer by major powers on its nuclear programme before acting, diplomats said on Friday.

An EU diplomat said the 27-nation bloc was making legal and technical preparations for an asset and funds freeze on state-owned Bank Melli — a measure long sought by the United States to raise pressure on Iran to halt uranium enrichment.

But a source in the EU’s Slovenian presidency said Brussels would await an Iranian response to an updated offer of political and economic incentives, due to be delivered to Tehran soon by EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, before ministers decide to approve the sanctions.

The West suspects Iran of seeking the ability to make nuclear weapons while the oil-producing Islamic Republic insists its secretive programme is purely aimed at generating energy.

The UN Security Council passed a third sanctions resolution against Iran last month and Washington has been pressing the Europeans to deny targeted Iranian banks access to the international financial system.
At the same time, the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany have agreed in principle to send a renewed offer of cooperation in areas ranging from civilian nuclear energy to aviation, trade, the fight against drug smuggling and security if Tehran complies with UN demands.

US Treasury Undersecretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Stuart Levey, who has been leading the banking sanctions drive, said last month the world’s top banks have already largely stopped dealing with Iran.
Two of the US military’s most prominent voices on Middle East issues are holding out the prospect of improved relations with Iran despite tensions over its nuclear and military ambitions.

Army Lt Gen Martin Dempsey, acting head of the US Central Command, said in an Associated Press interview that Washington and Tehran could seek common ground on tough issues like combating the illicit drug trade in Afghanistan if Iran would stop its “malign activity” inside Iraq.

And Army Gen David Petraeus, expected to win Senate confirmation as the permanent head of Central Command, told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that although Iran is fueling proxy wars in the Middle East he sees a possibility of “more constructive relations.”

Their remarks reflect a US effort, from President George W. Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates on down, to highlight Iranian activity that Washington deems harmful in Iraq, Lebanon and elsewhere in the Middle East while also encouraging Tehran to change its behavior.

At a time of growing speculation that Iran and the United States are edging closer to open conflict, the generals’ comments appear hopeful, perhaps indicating a view that there is a reasonable prospect of avoiding war by using diplomatic and other means to nudge Iran in a new direction.

Dempsey, whose Central Command area of military responsibility features numerous interrelated problems, including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, said it is clear that Iran is exerting its influence across the region, from Lebanon to Iraq and possibly even into western Afghanistan.

Even so, Dempsey said in the interview Wednesday at his Central Command headquarters in Tampa, Florida, that he believes there are “plenty of opportunities to have some region-altering events.” He cited as an example the announcement Thursday that Syria and Israel were negotiating a peace deal.
“There is even reason to find common ground with Iran on certain issues, like counternarcotics,” he said, “but it’s pretty difficult to do that when (US) soldiers are dying because of lethal munitions provided by them.”

Dempsey was referring to US allegations that Iran is training Iraqi Shiite militiamen and providing them with rockets, mortars and technology for a particularly deadly type of roadside bomb. The narcotics trade that stems largely from vast opium harvests in Afghanistan is an issue of great interest to both the United States and Iran, Dempsey said. The US government sees stopping it as central to transforming Afghanistan’s meager economy and supporting the country’s political development. “Iran has a vested interest in actually getting rid of the poppy because that’s where it ends up,” Dempsey said. “There are opportunities in the region for finding common interests with Iran. But we can’t act on those opportunities in the face of such malign activity inside of Iraq.” Dempsey said Iran is a problem to be viewed in a regional context.

Iran is continuing to stonewall the UN nuclear watchdog’s investigations into allegations it has carried out studies to design a nuclear weapon, diplomats said on Friday. As the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) prepares to publish its latest report on its long-running investigation into Iran’s disputed atomic drive, diplomats said they expected no real progress on the alleged studies, a key issue still to be resolved regarding Tehran’s past nuclear activities. Tehran has insisted that a series of recent visits by the IAEA inspectors to discuss the issue had gone well.

But one western diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, told AFP Tehran had moved little beyond asserting that the allegations were baseless and that the intelligence used to back them up was fake. The United States’ envoy to the IAEA, Gregory Schulte, told reporters this week that Washington would not be satisfied with that and wanted to see a detailed response to the allegations. The United States also wanted to see readiness on Tehran’s part to implement the so-called Additional Protocol, part of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) which gives IAEA inspectors the right to carry out unannounced checks at nuclear sites. “And we’re also waiting to see whether Iran is prepared to suspend uranium enrichment,” a process used to make the fissile material for an atomic bomb, Schulte said.

The IAEA’s last report on Iran in February signed off most of the key questions over Tehran’s past nuclear activities. But it demanded the Islamic republic present evidence to disprove reports that it had engaged in weaponisation studies. The IAEA’s deputy director general Olli Heinonen “made clear that continuing Iranian claims of ‘baseless allegations’ would not be acceptable,” said Schulte. “The board’s expectations are equally clear: Iran’s leaders must fully disclose their past activities and allow IAEA inspections to verify they are stopped.” The IAEA’s latest report is set to be circulated to the board early next week so that it can be discussed at a full board meeting at the beginning of June. The report will likely confirm again that Tehran has ignored UN Security Council demands to halt uranium enrichment, despite three rounds of sanctions. Iran insists its nuclear program is aimed at generating power for civilian use.


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