The Guardian - Gordon Brown declared last night that Britain "will lead" the international campaign to stop Iran's nuclear programme, calling for new sanctions on oil and gas investments in the Islamic republic if it fails to comply with UN resolutions.
- PM pledges 'hard-headed' approach to nuclear talks
- Russia and China likely to reject new sanctions
Patrick Wintour, Julian Borger and Simon Tisdall
Gordon Brown declared last night that Britain "will lead" the international campaign to stop Iran's nuclear programme, calling for new sanctions on oil and gas investments in the Islamic republic if it fails to comply with UN resolutions.
In his first set-piece foreign policy speech, the prime minister described his approach as "hard-headed internationalism" and said that if Iran continued to ignore UN security council demands to suspend uranium enrichment, Britain would call for tighter sanctions.
"We will lead in seeking tougher sanctions both at the UN and in the European Union, including on oil and gas investment and the financial sector," Brown said in the prime minister's annual foreign policy speech at the Mansion House. Iran, he said, "should be in no doubt about the seriousness of our purpose."
Brown's initiative is almost certain to be rejected by Russia and China, who are currently resisting more modest UN sanctions. Britain has little direct investment in the Iranian oil and gas industry, although BP and Shell have been interested in fresh ventures in the country, while the US has also been putting private pressure on British banks to scale down their operations in Iran.
The proposals could ultimately lead to higher fuel prices, but the prime minister's spokesman said: "When we are dealing with nuclear proliferation, this needs to be taken seriously."
Commenting on the speech William Hague, the shadow foreign secretary, said: "We have called for many months for international sanctions targeted at investment in Iranian oil and gas, and its financial sector. The prime minister has listened and has finally come round to our way of thinking. We welcome this and look to the urgent implementation of his proposals."
The prime minister's initiative comes at a critical moment in the Iranian nuclear crisis. Mohamed ElBaradei, the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), is due to deliver a report on Iranian cooperation with investigations into its past nuclear activities by the end of this week. A few days later, the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, will present an assessment to Iran's willingness to suspend enrichment.
After hearing from both, senior officials from the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany will meet in Brussels on Monday to decide whether to impose fresh sanctions. If Russia and China object, the US and Europe will have to decide on their own measures.
Russia is likely to lead the resistance to the push for more sanctions. Moscow believes it came close to defusing the crisis last month but that delicate talks with Tehran were torpedoed by unilateral US sanctions, the Guardian has learned. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin's, fury at the US sanctions was heightened by the fact he had consulted the US president, George Bush, before visiting Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in Tehran in mid-October. In a telephone conversation prior to the Putin visit to Iran, Bush reassured Putin that the US was prepared to enter into comprehensive talks with Iran's leaders if they agreed to suspend uranium enrichment, according to European and Russian officials.
Bush also restated his backing for a Russian proposal for Iran's uranium to be enriched on Russian soil, as a way around the impasse that has triggered two waves of UN sanctions and speculation about US military action. But in return he demanded Russian backing for tougher sanctions if the offers were rejected.
This carrot and stick strategy had been in play for some time. Moscow had first put forward its enrichment proposal in 2005, but Russian officials say that when Putin put it back on the table in Tehran on October 16, Khamenei asked for time to consider the issue.
However, nine days later, the US announced new unilateral economic sanctions targeted at senior members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard. The announcement took Moscow by surprise, entrenched hardliners in Tehran and derailed the Putin initiative, Russian officials say.
US and British officials, however, point to splits in the Iranian government which led to the resignation on October 20 of the chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, who had supported the talks with Russia, and his replacement by Saeed Jalili, a lieutenant of the hardline president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. The Russian compromise has been echoed by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf countries. Last night, Brown voiced his support for the idea, envisaging an "enrichment bond" to help non-nuclear states acquire new sources of energy.