Thursday, March 30, 2006

Security Council Rejects Calls for Sanctions on Iran

Joel Brinkley, The New York Times:
A day after the United Nations Security Council approved a heavily compromised statement criticizing the Iranian nuclear program, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice today raised the idea of imposing sanctions on Iran for the first time with the permament members of the council but received a decidedly cool reaction from China and Russia.

During a news conference after a three and one-half hour meeting here today, Dai Bingguo, China's vice minister of foreign affairs, rejected the idea of sanctions and offered a thinly veiled criticism of the war in Iraq when he said, "The Chinese side feels there has already been enough turmoil in the Middle East. We don't need any more turmoil."

The Security Council approved the statement on Wednesday after three weeks of debate, and Ms. Rice praised it, even though it was far weaker than the one the United States had originally proposed. It calls on the International Atomic Energy Agency to report within 30 days on Iran's progress toward curtailing its nuclear development work. The report is to go back to the atomic energy and to the Security Council, giving the council an opportunity to respond.

Ms. Rice noted that Russia had wanted to strip out the language calling for a referral to the Security Council but had relented under American pressure.

As it is, both Russia and China bluntly declared that they had no interest in imposing sanctions or taking any further action against Iran, though both countries did express concern about the nuclear program. Both countries said they wanted to refer the issue back to the atomic energy agency.

"Russia believes that the sole solution for this problem will be based on the work of the I.A.E.A.," said the Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov.

American officials say they believe Iran is unlikely to budge from its confrontational position unless it is offered both "carrots and sticks," a senior official traveling with Ms. Rice said this evening. But the same opposition that forced the United States to accept a weaker statement than it had wanted seems likely to make it quite difficult to make further threats against Iran to persuade it to back down.

Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, speaking at a disarmament conference in Geneva today, described the Security Council action as "political maneuvering by some Western countries" and "an abuse of international mechanisms."

On her way here Wednesday night Mr, Rice said the meeting was being held to begin discussions of "the next steps" to be taken against Iran, now that the Security Council statement had been approved. Later, after Russia's and China's public rebuke of the idea of taking any further action, a senior administration official, briefing reporters, offered a different goal for the meeting, saying it had been an effort to keep the coalition of nations opposed to Iran's nuclear program together.

The official said several nations, presumably European countries, had supported the notion of unspecified sanctions after Mr. Rice proposed the idea. "But I don't want to say there was any agreement on this," he added. The official briefed reporters traveling with Ms. Rice under the ground rule that he would not be identified by name.

Europe or other nations would have to impose any sanctions; the United States already has sanctions in place.

Ms. Rice alluded to the sort of sanctions the United States will likely propose when, speaking to reporters, she said the United States and its allies will look at "how a strong message can be sent to the Iranian regime that it's the regime that is isolated, not the Iranian people." READ MORE

An administration official said she was referring to the idea of imposing travel bans on senior Iranian officials and freezing their foreign bank accounts, as the United States and Europe say they intend to do in Belarus.

Asked about that during the news conference here, Ms. Rice insisted that no such idea was discussed during the meeting today.

Immediately afterward, Mr. Lavrov said, "In principle, Russia doesn't believe that sanctions could achieve the purposes of settlement of various issues."

Russia has repeatedly warned that further action against Iran would prompt the nation's leaders to back out of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

But Ms. Rice came close to saying she would welcome that.

"Well, I don't think it is necessarily worse to have Iran finally clarify for people that they don't intend to live under the international regime," she said, speaking to reporters on her way here. "If Iran makes threats and carries through on it, we'll have a better and clearer idea of what Iran's intentions are."