World leaders delay Iran crunch-time

Iran may have been hauled over the coals by the G8 but world leaders have effectively delayed a full confrontation with Tehran over its disputed election and nuclear programme until September.

In a joint declaration at an ongoing summit in Italy, leaders expressed “serious concern” over the violence which followed Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s re-election last month as well as remarks by the controversial president that the Holocaust was a myth.

With Russia arguing that the bloody crackdown on opposition protestors was essentially an internal matter, a push by the United States for tougher sanctions ran out of steam.

Instead the G8 said their next meeting in September, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, would be “an occasion to take stock” of progress towards freezing Iran’s atomic drive and in the meantime urged Tehran to cooperate with the UN’s nuclear watchdog.

The Group of 20, which includes non-G8 member China, is also due to meet in the US city of Pittsburgh in September when the Iranian nuclear issue is again likely to be thrashed over.

US officials believe that President Barack Obama has managed to persuade his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev that Iran poses a serious threat, both at talks in Italy and when they held a bilateral summit in Moscow on Monday.

Bill Burns, the under-secretary of state for political affairs, played up the fact that the declaration agreed late Wednesday was unanimous but he acknowledged that the G8 “did not talk about specifics.”

“The bottom line was that all eight leaders, all eight delegations ultimately signed up to what is a pretty strong statement,” he told reporters.

Another senior White House official also said patience with Iran was wearing thin.

“The discussion reflected, I’d say, a collective impatience with Iran and a desire to see real response going forward,” said Mark Froman, deputy national security advisor for international economics.

Speaking in Rome just before he joined the rest of the G8 leaders, Obama reiterated his support for dialogue with Tehran as well as North Korea to “encourage them to take a path that does not result in a nuclear arms race.”

French President Nicolas Sarkozy, one of the most outspoken critics of the regime in Tehran, said Iran should be in no doubt that patience was limited.

“Between August and September it’s for them to decide how they want things to evolve. Pittsburgh is the date,” he said.

Western efforts to step up pressure on Tehran have thus far been hampered by Moscow’s reluctance to pursue tough measures, but Sarkozy said his Russian counterpart Dmitry Medvedev had been “constructive” on the issue.

“We have taken an immense step towards unity,” he said. “We all think it would be a catastrophe not to resolve these issues through diplomacy and dialogue.”

Sergei Pridhodko, a senior foreign policy aide to Medvedev, said there was a consensus among the G8 that dialogue offered the best route to a resolution.

“The common desire is to continue working with Iran,” he told reporters.


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