SA seeks to negotiate Iran nuclear settlement

South African foreign affairs minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said last week the Southern African country was “trying to help” resolve the nuclear dispute, which has grown into a potentially fatal international crisis.

Dlamini-Zuma was speaking after talks with Iranian foreign minister Manuchehr Motakki, who was in the country for a meeting of the South Africa-Iran bilateral commission, during which he restated his country’s intention to continue its nuclear enrichment programme despite international concerns.

An international row has arisen over Iran’s decision to continue the nuclear enrichment programme, the products of which members of the United Nations Security Council believe could be used to create a dangerous nuclear weapon.

However Iran has said it intends to use the enriched uranium for peaceful purposes, and will not stop the programme.

“We hope there is some cooperation and negotiations respecting the right of Iran to have nuclear technology and remove any questions,” Motakki said.

Iran’s decision to persist with the programme has raised the spectre of an armed conflict with western powers, particularly the United States, which has battled to police international nuclear programmes and weapons development.

The United States Ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Greg Schulte was expected in the country last week in a meeting aimed at pushing South Africa to press Iran into stopping its enrichment programme.

The meeting was also expected to discuss possible UN action on Iran should it refuse to halt the programme, which could include sanctions on Iran by China, the US, France, Russia, Britain and Germany.

Dlamini Zuma said South Africa was trying to facilitate a resolution in its capacity as a board member of the IAEA, a body tasked with regulating global nuclear energy programmes.

South Africa’s involvement as a peace broker was also expected to enhance its clout in the international community, within which the influence of African countries has been relatively weak.

Apart from benefiting South Africa, a calm resolution to the crisis would benefit other Southern African countries including Zimbabwe and Mozambique, which are engaged in trade relations and economic partnerships with Iran.

After several bilateral trade agreements were signed between Iran and South Africa last week, speculation has mounted that South Africa’s backing of Iran’s nuclear programme could be tied to the trade pacts.

The two countries signed a Customs Cooperation Agreement and an agreement that could see diplomatic and official passport holders being exempted from visa requirements.

The pacts also include an accord allowing Iran to establish a crude oil storage facility at Saldanha Bay in the Western Cape.

“We believe South Africa can act as a gate for the Iranian petrochemical trade in Southern Africa,” Mottaki said.

Since the beginning of the nuclear crisis South Africa, which has maintained strong economic ties with Iran, has stressed Iran’s “inalienable right” to use and develop nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.

After last week’s meeting, Dlamini Zuma said she hoped the issue could be resolved without conflict.

“We urge all parties to avoid confrontation and resume negotiations,” she said.

August 2006
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