Iran talks must calm 'drums of war' says Obama
Washington, March 7, 2012
President Barack Obama said an announcement of six-power talks with Iran offered a diplomatic chance to defuse a crisis over its nuclear programme and quiet the 'drums of war'.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany in dealings with Iran, announced a fresh bid to allay suspicions that Iran is developing nuclear weapons after weeks of consultations with the other powers.
A date and venue have yet to be agreed for the talks, proposed by Iran after a year's diplomatic standstill that has increased fears of a slide into a new Middle East war.
Amid mounting speculation that Iran's nuclear sites could be attacked in coming months, Obama said that American politicians 'beating the drums of war' had a responsibility to explain the costs and benefits of military action.
He said the notion that the US needed to make a choice in coming weeks or months was 'not borne out by facts'.
But he said Washington would 'not countenance' Iran getting a nuclear weapon, shortly after Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said the US would take military action to prevent this happening if diplomacy failed.
'Military action is the last alternative when all else fails,' Panetta told the annual policy conference of the biggest US pro-Israel lobbying group, AIPAC. 'But make no mistake, when all else fails, we will act.'
With Israel speaking increasingly loudly of resorting to military action, the talks could provide some respite in a crisis that has driven up oil prices and threatened to suck the United States into its third major war in a decade.
The resumption of talks could slow a drift towards military strikes on a uranium enrichment programme that Iran is gradually moving underground in what the West fears is an attempt to put a weapons programme beyond reach. Iran says its research is aimed purely at electricity generation.
Israel, which says its existence will be threatened if Iran develops nuclear armaments, is losing confidence in Western efforts to rein in the Islamic Republic with sanctions and diplomatic pressure.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assured Obama on Monday that the Jewish state had made no decision on attacking Iranian nuclear sites, sources close to talks in Washington said. But he gave no sign of backing away from the option of military strikes.
The senior EU official said there were reasons to believe talks with Iran might be productive. 'The first is that there is clear written commitment by Iran to be willing to address the nuclear issue in talks,' the official said. 'Second is the unity of the international community ... Third is certainly sanctions.'
Russia, which built Iran's first nuclear power plant and has far warmer relations with Tehran than Western nations do, has often stressed the need for talks and said coercive pressure on Tehran is counterproductive.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said last month that global powers must work harder to seek agreement with Iran, warning that Tehran's appetite for concessions was waning as it moves closer to being able to build atomic weapons.
On Tuesday, Ryabkov said he hoped fresh talks with Iran would address a proposal by president-elect Vladimir Putin for global powers to formally recognise Iran's right to enrich uranium, Tehran to submit its programme to full IAEA supervision, and international sanctions to be lifted.- Reuters