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SAfrica opposed to conflict over Iran crisis-Mbeki

Written by: Staff

JOHANNESBURG, Mar 30 (Reuters) South African President Thabo Mbeki called today for a ''sensible'' handling of the crisis over Iran's nuclear programme to avert yet another conflict in the region.

Mbeki, whose government tried unsuccessfully to keep negotiations on the Iran issue within the U.N. nuclear agency IAEA, told parliament that referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council could ultimately lead to confrontation.

''As a government we are generally concerned about the situation in the West Asia,'' Mbeki said in a question-and-answer session in the Cape Town-based assembly.

''There is a lot of instability -- the Palestine-Israel problem, the Iraq problem, tensions arising about Syria and Lebanon, the situation in Afghanistan.

''It would seem to us that the most sensible thing to do is not to increase the troubled spots in the region, but to reduce them.'' Mbeki's envoy, Abdul Minty, argued his country's case at a special board meeting of the of the IAEA in February but lost out to a consensus decision for a greater involvement of the Security Council in the dispute with Iran.

DISAPPOINTMENT Mbeki today voiced his disappointment with that move.

''We have been trying to insist that this matter must be solved in a way that addresses everybody's concerns and interests without any confrontation,'' he told MPs.

''It is quite clear that if this matter were to escalate ... that you could have a situation where the matter gets to the Security Council and the problem escalates, with consequences that are very difficult to foresee but which would be negative.'' Mbeki spoke as the world's big powers told Iran today it must heed a U.N. demand to curb its nuclear programme or face isolation.

Tehran refused to budge.

Britain said Iran could eventually face U.N. sanctions if it failed to suspend uranium enrichment, a process which can produce fuel for nuclear power stations or for bombs.

Iran, which says it only wants civilian nuclear power, rejected a U.N. Security Council presidential statement adopted yesterday that called for an enrichment freeze and a report from the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Iranian compliance in 30 days.


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