Saturday, September 17, 2005

Rice Urges U.N. to Stand Up to Iran Nuclear Bid

Paul Taylor and Sue Pleming, Reuters:
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice urged the United Nations on Saturday to stand up to Iran, which she said was seeking a nuclear weapons capability that would undermine global security.

Iran's new president was to unveil proposals later in the day intended to allay international suspicions over its nuclear ambitions, with Western powers poised to haul Tehran before the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

What President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad tells the U.N. General Assembly may determine whether the world nuclear watchdog moves next week to report Iran's secretive atomic program to the highest U.N. body, diplomats said.

Before he spoke, Rice told the assembly the Security Council should take up the case unless Tehran returned to talks with the European Union and abandoned "its plans for a nuclear weapons capability."

But she omitted harsher anti-Iranian remarks in her prepared text and left the timing of a U.N. referral open. READ MORE

"When diplomacy has been exhausted, the Security Council must become involved," Rice said.

Iran swears its program, concealed from the International Atomic Energy Agency for 18 years, is purely for civilian energy purposes.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan warned the world in his opening address that the consensus underlying the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was badly frayed while nations pointed fingers at each other rather than working for solutions.

"Yet we face growing risks of proliferation and catastrophic terrorism, and the stakes are too high to continue down a dangerous path of diplomatic brinkmanship," he said.


Iran last month spurned a European package of economic, security and technology incentives for it to abandon sensitive nuclear work and reactivated a factory converting uranium ore into gas, prompting the European Union to break off talks.

Diplomats at IAEA headquarters in Vienna said Ahmadinejad was expected to revive a proposal to turn Iran's uranium enrichment program into an international joint venture, which European countries had rejected in earlier negotiating rounds.

"We expect Ahmadinejad to propose some kind of complex internationalization of the issue, but if they stick to their determination to do uranium enrichment, they are heading for the Security Council," a European diplomat said.

Rice and European Union ministers sowed doubts about the timing of a vote to refer Iran to the top U.N. body with comments this week, but diplomats said the Western powers were determined to press for a vote this month.

European diplomats said the three European powers that have been negotiating with Iran -- Britain, France and Germany -- had adopted a softer tone to be seen as giving Ahmadinejad a chance and to win over waverers on the IAEA board.

They said Washington and the three EU powers believed they had the support of at least 20 countries on the 35-member board, which meets beginning on Monday. One option being considered was to put forward a resolution but hold off a vote for two or three weeks to give Iran a final chance to halt uranium conversion.

Nuclear powers Russia, China, India and Pakistan are all reluctant to back a referral and diplomats say Iran, the world's second-biggest oil producer, is convinced it has the upper hand and has little to fear from the Security Council.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said after discussing Iran with U.S. President George W. Bush on Friday that diplomacy was far from exhausted and there was still room for negotiation.

The council has the power to take action against Iran ranging from a verbal slap on the wrist to a total trade ban. But sanctions are a very remote prospect.

IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei has urged the Western powers to wait but the diplomats said delay would only embolden Iran to push on toward nuclear fuel enrichment, having "got away" with the precursor phase of uranium conversion.

Besides, the diplomatic arithmetic would get tougher when more nonaligned nations join the IAEA board later this month.

(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau in Vienna)