New German attempt to break nuclear impasse on Iran


Berlin : In an attempt to break the impasse over Iran’s nuclear programme, the German government has suggested setting up a “special area” where the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) can carry out uranium enrichment for newcomers to the nuclear club.

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German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has put the proposal, which is not new to the UN’s nuclear supervisory body as meetings begin in Vienna to prepare the ground for a review of the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

“Its aim is to ensure that all interested states have access to nuclear fuel for energy generation, while reducing the risk of proliferation of nuclear weapons,” Steinmeier said hours before he travelled to Sharm el-Sheikh for a conference on the future of Iran’s neighbour Iraq.

While Iran is not specifically mentioned in the proposal, Germany, along with Britain and France, has been a key player in trying to find a way out of the current impasse.

The US has made clear it will not countenance an Iran with nuclear weapons and has made clear it believes the Iranian enrichment programme is aimed at precisely this.

Johannes Reissner, Iran expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) in Berlin, said the proposal was primarily aimed at “showing the issue was being worked on.”

“The goal is to find a solution acceptable to both sides – a face saving solution,” Reissner said.

But he added: “I don’t know what’s behind this. We need to see what comes out of Sharm el-Sheikh.”

Foreign ministers from 60 countries, including Iran, were meeting in the Egyptian resort Thursday, amid expectations that issues relating to security throughout the Middle East would be discussed.

There was intense speculation that US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice would meet her Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki in what would be the first contact between the two rivals at this level in 27 years.

In Vienna some 130 of the 188 signatory countries to the NPT began meeting Tuesday to prepare the ground for a review of the NPT in 2010 in what is expected to be a long drawn out procedure.

Iran, which has signed the treaty, has already expressed opposition to the wording on the agenda requiring “full compliance” with the NPT from all signatories.

Reflecting the general pessimism on the future of the NPT, and Iran’s enrichment programme in particular, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon referred to a “persisting crisis of confidence in the treaty.”

It was unclear whether Steinmeier’s proposal could help restore that confidence. “I didn’t get a lot out of it,” Reissner remarked.