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Iran ‘may trigger new Cold War’: Talks carrot & arms race stick

Published time: February 18, 2012 12:54
Edited time: February 18, 2012 18:11
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2nd L) and Foreign Minister Ali AKbar Salehi (C) listening to an expert during a tour of Tehran's research reactor centre on February 15, 2012. (AFP Photo/HO)

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2nd L) and Foreign Minister Ali AKbar Salehi (C) listening to an expert during a tour of Tehran's research reactor centre on February 15, 2012. (AFP Photo/HO)

The US and EU indicated “careful optimism” on possible renewal of talks with Iran over its controversial nuclear program. Meanwhile the UK has accused the Islamic Republic of provoking a nuclear arms race and a new cold war in the Middle East.

­Iran and the group of six negotiators trying to resolve the ongoing crisis may soon be back at the negotiating table, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU foreign policy and security chief Catherine Ashton said. It follows Iran sending a letter to Ashton pledging to renew the talks and offer new initiatives, according to Reuters, which has a copy of the message.

"We think this is an important step and we welcome the letter," Clinton said in a joint meeting with Ashton. The Iranian letter "appeared to acknowledge and accept" the western countries' longstanding condition that any talks begin with a discussion of its nuclear program, the Secretary of State stressed.

The so-called P5+1 group, which consists of six permanent UN Security Council members and Germany, last met with Iranian nuclear negotiators in January 2011. The talks however resulted in little progress.

The optimism voiced by Clinton is not shared by some US Senators, who are pressing President Obama to block any talks with Tehran. Joe Lieberman, Bob Menendez, Jim Risch and others wrote a letter to the President saying Iran is using the talks to win more time.

"Such tactical manoeuvrings are a dangerous distraction and should not be tolerated," the Senators argue as cited by AFP.

“We would strongly oppose any proposal that caps or limits sanctions against the Iranian regime in exchange for anything less than full, verifiable, and sustained suspension of all enrichment activities, including both 3 percent and 20 percent enrichment," the letter stresses.

Iran’s alleged pursuit of a nuclear capability is more dangerous than the Cold War era confrontation between NATO and the Warsaw Pact Organization, believes UK Foreign Secretary William Hague.

“They are clearly continuing their nuclear weapons program… If they obtain a nuclear weapon capability, then I think other nations across the Middle East will want to develop nuclear weapons,” he said in an interview to Daily Telegraph newspaper.

“The threat of a new cold war in the Middle East without necessarily all the safety mechanisms … That would be a disaster in world affairs,” the secretary added.

Western countries suspect Iran is developing nuclear weapons under the guise of its civilian nuclear program. A report by the UN’s nuclear watchdog last November made the case for the allegations, citing circumstantial evidence gathered over the years, which may indicate such an ambition.

The report was widely cited by the US, Israel, UK and some other nations as justification of ramping up pressure on Tehran. The latest round of sanctions adopted by the US and the EU targets Iranian oil exports and the financial sector. There is also speculation that either Israel or a coalition of several nations could launch an attack on Iranian nuclear facilities in a matter of months, before they are relocated to a better fortified location.

Tehran maintains it only wants to develop nuclear power. Its latest achievement was constructing domestically nuclear fuel rod assemblies and loading them into a research reactor. Having a developed uranium enrichment industry in essential for Iran, if it wants its nuclear power plants to be independent from suppliers of nuclear fuel, like the US and Russia.