22nd Oct 2016

Iran dominates start of UN meeting in New York

  • The UN chamber in New York - leaders' plenary speeches begin on Tuesday (Photo: tomdz)

EU ministers in New York have said new sanctions on Iran are the antidote to an Iran-Israel war.

Speaking to press in the margins of the UN's annual meeting, the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the UK said the EU wants to put more "pressure" on Iran for a diplomatic solution to the nuclear confrontation.

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The UK's William Hague told Canadian broadcaster CBC on Monday (24 September) that the EU ban on Iran oil imports imposed in July has already had a positive effect.

"We ... have brought Iran back to negotiations which is not unrelated to that sanctions pressure upon them. There have been several rounds of substantive negotiations that haven't brought a breakthrough, that haven't succeeded," he said.

"But the alternative to what we're doing now, sanctions plus negotiations, is to allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons or to get itself into a position where it could easily have a nuclear weapon, or say to let Israelis conclude that they should make an attack on Iran. Well those are things we don't want to see."

French minister Laurent Fabius told Reuters: "If we want to reach a diplomatic and peaceful solution to Iran's nuclear program, then we must increase the pressure."

Talks between the P5+1 group - China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK and the US - and Iran restarted this year, with the group's negotiator, EU foreign service chief Catherine Ashton, last meeting her Iranian counterpart, Saeed Jalili, in Istanbul last week.

Ashton described the talks as "constructive."

But an EU contact told this website it is unclear whether Iran wants to proceed "step-by-step" on reducing uranium enrichment or whether it is waiting for a comprehensive "package" to emerge after US elections.

The EU is preparing to impose additional sanctions on Iran at a foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels on 15 October.

A British diplomat told EUobserver the new measures will focus on energy, finance, trade and transport.

Another EU diplomat said a ban on imports of Iranian natural gas and restrictions on flights to Tehran are two items under discussion in expert groups. "We don't really import any gas from Iran, so it should be easy to get agreement on that," he noted.

The UN event in New York got off to a testy start when the Israeli ambassador walked out of a meeting on international law on Monday after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called his country a "fake regime."

The Iranian leader made another inflammataory statement in a press briefing in his hotel.

"Iran has been around for the last seven, 10,000 years. They [the Israelis] have been occupying those territories for the last 60 to 70 years, with the support and force of the Westerners ... During a historical phase, they represent minimal disturbances that come into the picture and are then eliminated," he said.

EU and US delegates stayed behind at the rule of law meeting, however.

Amid regular Israeli threats to strike Iran's nuclear facilities, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said at the event that any military action must have a UN mandate: "When the use of force is inevitable, it should be legitimised by the international law emanating from this house, the United Nations."

Meanwhile, EU diplomats back in Brussels said the threat of an Iran-Israel war rarely comes up in day-to-day meetings.

"It's above our pay grade. We talk about sanctions, human rights and humanitarian aid to Syria. But Most EU countries are not involved in decision-making on this [potential conflict], so their diplomats don't stand up and make statements just for the sake of it," one source said.

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