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UK says time is running out

June 8, 2009

By Guy Dinmore in Rome, June 8, 2009

David Miliband, UK foreign secretary, has warned Iran that “time is running out” for it to halt its uranium enrichment programme or face “increasingly tough sanctions” from the Group of Eight leading industrialised nations.

But Mr Miliband adds, in an article to be published on Monday in Rome, that the sanctions are not aimed at regime change and that the G8 is committed to a diplomatic solution of Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons programme.

The prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran is the most urgent challenge in terms of global security for the G8, Mr Miliband writes. He accuses the Islamic republic and  a “handful” of  unnamed countries and “terrorist groups” of seeking to acquire nuclear technology for “sinister means, whether it is  to directly threaten lives or foster instability”.

The article is part of a series published by Italy’s foreign ministry in the run-up to the G8 summit to be hosted by Italy next month.

Noting that Iran has ignored five UN Security Council resolutions calling for a halt to its enrichment programme, Mr Miliband says: “Time is running out. If Iran attains a nuclear weapon, it will embolden extremists and spark a nuclear arms race.”

Despite Mr Miliband’s warning of further collective sanctions, diplomats question whether Russia, a member of the G8 and with veto power on the UN Security Council, would support such measures. Iran insists it has a right to enrich uranium to power nuclear reactors and denies it has a weapons programme.

London sought to block a planned visit to Iran last month by Franco Frattini, Italy’s foreign minister, arguing it would break EU unity in shunning high-level contact with Tehran and deliver a propaganda gift to Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad in his presidential election campaign.

Mr Frattini called off the visit at the last moment after Mr Ahmadi-Nejad announced a missile test. Italian envoys argued that the EU diplomatic boycott of Iran had been a failure and that Mr Frattini needed to prepare the ground for a conference Italy is hosting this month on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The conference is expected to bring together for the first time Iran’s foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, and Hillary Clinton, US secretary of state.

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