x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UN powers and Arab states hold talks on Iran

Ministers of regional and global powers meet at the UN to debate Gulf security and pressure Iran to scale down its nuclear ambitions.

NEW YORK // Ministers of regional and global powers met yesterday at the United Nations to debate Gulf security and pressure Iran to scale down its nuclear ambitions. Representatives from the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany - the so-called P5+1 - together with delegates from Jordan, Egypt, Iraq and some other Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC) nations, including the UAE.

The hour-long meeting behind closed doors in the basement of UN headquarters featured high-level delegates including Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, David Miliband, the British foreign secretary, and Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief. Speaking with reporters after the meeting, Ms Rice said the summit represented the ongoing attempts of global powers to co-ordinate with Arab nations over Tehran's suspected nuclear weapons programme.

"All there expressed their concern about Iran's nuclear policies and its regional ambitions," Ms Rice said. "What really did come out here is that these are countries that have very deep interests in how this issue gets resolved, and they want to continue consultations with the P5+1 on how all this is going to come out." Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, did not speak with journalists after the summit, but has previously called on the Islamic republic to co-operate with inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

During the General Assembly in September, he urged "Iran to continue its collaboration with the IAEA and the international community, so as to dispel concerns and suspicions related to the nature and objectives of its nuclear programme". The Security Council's permanent members - Russia, China, France, the UK and the US - have already teamed up with Germany for three rounds of UN sanctions against Iran for refusing to suspend its uranium enrichment programme.

Tehran rejects western allegations that it is secretly amassing the capability to build atomic weapons and claims it is developing the technology to run a civilian nuclear energy programme. Iranian officials were not invited to the meeting. Speaking in advance of the meeting, Britain's Mr Miliband told reporters he wanted to reach out to Arab states and other countries to assure them that the Iranians are not victims of a "vendetta of the Security Council".

"Iran's nuclear weapons programme is increasingly recognised as a threat to the whole region of the Middle East," Mr Miliband said after a meeting of the UN Security Council on Zimbabwe on Monday. "The development of a nuclear weapons programme that kick-starts a nuclear arms race is the last thing the Middle East needs." The outgoing US administration has said a new round of sanctions against Iran would be justified because Tehran has not responded positively to an offer of economic and political incentives.

But diplomats from some P5+1 powers say the process of negotiating a new round of Security Council sanctions will be delayed until Barack Obama, the US president-elect takes office on Jan 20. Mr Obama has already indicated he will adopt a different strategy to handling Iran and its nuclear programme to that employed by George W Bush, whose attempts to isolate Tehran have met with limited success. The spread of nuclear technology across the Middle East has become an increasingly contentious issue, largely the result of alleged weapons programmes in Iran and Syria as well as Israel's assumed atom bomb capacity.

A growing number of Arab nations, including the UAE, are also seeking to harness nuclear energy for peaceful civilian purposes in a bid to feed growing populations and reduce hydrocarbon consumption. jreinl@thenational.ae * With additional reporting by Reuters