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Solution to Iran crisis "likely to take time"

A heavy-water production plant in Iran. The country insists its nuclear programme is peaceful.

(Keystone)

There is no immediate solution to the crisis over Tehran's nuclear programme, the former Swiss ambassador to Tehran tells swissinfo.

Tim Guldimann, who now teaches at Frankfurt University, says that two tracks are now being pursued by the international community - dialogue and possible sanctions.

Guldimann was speaking a day after Iran failed to heed a United Nations deadline for it to halt its nuclear programme or face possible sanctions.

Iran has said it will not yield to international pressure and maintains it has a right to a nuclear programme which it says is for civilian purposes. But many western countries have doubts about Iran's real intentions, fearing the country wants nuclear weapons.

Six world powers are due to meet next week to decide what action to take. The United States favours sanctions but Europe appears disposed to dialogue.

swissinfo: Iran has failed to adhere to the UN nuclear deadline. What is likely to happen next – sanctions?

Tim Guldimann: I think there are two parallel tracks which are pursued now. On the one side, there are efforts for a dialogue with Iran. At the same time discussions among the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany will be taken up about how to deal with the issue in the Security Council. One can assume that the US will press for sanctions, but it is not sure whether sanctions at the moment are acceptable for Russia and China. Therefore, one can assume that the debate on these two tracks will take some time.

swissinfo: If it is decided to go down the road of sanctions, what form would those take?

T.G.: The problem of the sanctions is manifold. First is it possible to reach an agreement among permanent Security Council members plus Germany?

The other point is that real tough international sanctions within a total international solidarity against Iran cannot be thought of in the current political climate. Therefore "soft" sanctions, even if they are escalated to stronger ones, will not impress the Iranians and imply the danger of further confrontation without achieving the aim. The aim is not to punish Iran, but bring it to concessions.

swissinfo: Would negotiations then be a more viable route to finding a solution?

T.G.: It is a difficult dilemma to find an appropriate mix between pressure and dialogue with a government which one knows reacts only to pressure but also reacts very negatively to too much pressure. Therefore it will be a difficult task to find a middle way here and it depends also on international coordination which Iran assumes will fail. Therefore the Iranian position is dangerous because by not showing enough flexibility it could overestimate its international leverage against the governments in the Security Council.

swissinfo: In the long term is a solution possible?

T.G.: I think it is still possible if there is goodwill on both sides. It is also possible because Iran's current build-up of its enrichment capacity seems not as fast as feared some months ago. Thus it does not constitute an immediate threat.

If Iran wanted to go nuclear in a military sense, which it says it does not, then it is still years away from this.

It is not as if it is about to finish a nuclear bomb next week. However, one can assume that the country is after the military option. This means that it wants to be able to achieve the capacity to go nuclear, if it wanted to do so in the future.

As it is far away from it and as the country is member of the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, there is still hope that a solution could be found to keep the country's nuclear programme under international inspections and even to extend these controls.

This is the basis on which one should understand that there is still time to deal with the issue. So if that is understood and events are not determined by the political agenda on either side then there is some hope.

swissinfo-interview: Isobel Leybold-Johnson

Key facts

Tim Guldimann entered the Swiss foreign ministry in 1982.
He served as Swiss ambassador to Tehran from 1999 to 2004.
He is presently on leave from the ministry and is teaching at Frankfurt University.

end of infobox

Iran: the next steps

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is due to visit Tehran over the weekend.

The US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, has said the UN Security Council must be ready to impose sanctions on Tehran, but no action would be taken until the EU meets Iran.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana is expected to meet Iran's top nuclear negotiator early next week. The EU reiterated on Friday its commitment to a diplomatic resolution.

The five countries permanent members of the UN Security Council - China, Britain, France, Russia and the United States - plus Germany will meet later next week, say officials.

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