Saturday, November 05, 2005

Nuclear Moves, Warn Syria Over UN Probe


Nov. 5 -- European Union foreign ministers will next week step up pressure on Iran to halt its nuclear-enrichment program and warn Syria not to obstruct the probe of the murder of Lebanon's former leader.

In a show of trans-Atlantic cooperation on Middle East policy, the EU will underline its ``grave concern'' over Iran's resumption of uranium enrichment, a step toward a potential showdown with Iran in the United Nations Security Council.

Syria will be warned of ``converging evidence'' of the involvement of Syrian officials in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and told to ``cooperate unconditionally'' with UN investigators, according to drafts of statements to be released at the ministers' Nov. 7 meeting.

European backing for the U.S. approach to Iran and Syria reflects the closer collaboration between the EU and U.S. more than two years after the trans-Atlantic falling out over the invasion of Iraq.

The UN's nuclear watchdog meets Nov. 24 to decide whether to seek Security Council condemnation of Iran's resumption of uranium enrichment, a move the U.S. has said may put Iran on the path to an atomic bomb.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tore up a two-year-old agreement with the EU over uranium processing after taking office in August, while saying that Iran's pursuit of nuclear technology is only for electricity.

Ahmadinejad raised further concerns over Iran's ambitions last month by declaring that Israel ``must be wiped off the map,'' provoking a wave of rebukes and leading UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to scrap a Tehran trip.

`Cause Concern'

The Iranian leader's ``comments cause concern about Iran's role in the region and its future intentions,'' next week's EU statement says, echoing language used by EU government chiefs at an Oct. 28 summit.

The 25 EU diplomats also will endorse last week's unanimous UN Security Council resolution taking the first step toward possible sanctions over Syria for the Feb. 14 murder of Hariri in Beirut.

The assassination sparked anti-Syrian street protests and led the Security Council to demand that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad pull his soldiers and spies out of Lebanon.

Seven senior Syrian officials, including Assad's brother and brother-in-law, were named as suspects last month by UN prosecutor Detlev Mehlis. Mehlis also accused Syria of obstructing the probe, which will continue until mid-December.

``The report's conclusions are very serious,'' the EU statement says. ``Syria has not cooperated fully with the investigating team.''


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