Sunday, March 05, 2006

Washington Splits Over Best Policy to Halt Iran's Nuclear Plan

Tom Baldwin, The Times:
The U.S. Administration is riven by divisions over how it should tackle Iran’s defiance of the international community with its nuclear programme, according to British MPs returning from a fact-finding mission to Washington. They expressed astonishment that widely differing policies — ranging from military action to diplomatic soft-pedalling — were still being debated even as the International Atomic Energy Agency board prepared for its vital meeting in Vienna today.

Iran yesterday raised the stakes by vowing that it would resume large-scale uranium enrichment if the meeting referred the Islamic republic to the UN Security Council. READ MORE

Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State who will today hold talks in Washington with Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, is advocating a cautious approach.

“Nobody has said that we have to rush immediately to sanctions of some kind,” she said at the weekend.

“I think the Security Council will have to have a serious discussion about what the next steps will be.”

Members of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee returning from Washington were, however, confused and disorientated about the direction of US policy towards Iran. They had held talks with John Bolton, the US Ambassador to the UN, who is a hawk on the issue. He told the MPs that he wanted a “Chapter Seven resolution” under which the UN would authorise military action, such as air strikes, against Iran.

Mr Bolton was quoted as saying: “They must know everything is on the table and they must understand what that means. We can hit different points along the line. You only have to take out one part of their nuclear operation to take the whole thing down.”

Mike Gapes, the Committee Chairman, said that this was one of “at least three views” they had heard on Iran from within the Administration.

Another option, which he ascribed to the Pentagon, where they had talks with Peter Rodman, the Assistant Defence Secretary, and Brigadier General Carter Hamm, formerly the US commander in northern Iraq, was to throw the issue “into the Security Council like a hand grenade and see what happens”.

However, Mr Gapes said that both the CIA and Richard Lugar, the Republican Chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, believed that the US should “ride it out” rather than engage in “posturing”, because of a lack of clarity as to what the Security Council would agree. Going to the UN could lead to a re-run of the attempts to get agreement on Iraq before the war.

Ali Larijani, Tehran’s chief negotiator, raised the stakes, saying Iran had a “God-given right” to a nuclear programme. He even warned oil production might be used as a weapon if the crisis deepened.

Iran has already resumed enrichment on a small scale at its Natanz research facility, testing 20 centrifuges, according to the IAEA.

Thousands of centrifuges are required to produce enough enriched uranium for a weapons programme.

The Islamic republic, which has the fourth-largest reserves of oil in the world, insists that it needs the nuclear programme for the production of electricity. The West fears that the Tehran Government, which has recently threatened to wipe Israel off the map, is trying to build nuclear weapons.

In the US, hawks such as Mr Bolton have been largely marginalised by the growing foreign policy ascendancy of Ms Rice as well as by the continued carnage in Iraq, which has damaged America’s military and political capacity to take action.

The US has, instead, pinned its hopes on the EU3 — Britain, France and Germany — securing a diplomatic solution. Last-ditch negotiations over a compromise proposal, under which uranium would be enriched for Iran by Russia, broke up without agreement on Friday.

The IAEA board today is widely expected to set Iran a new 30-day deadline by which it must halt the nuclear programme and comply with international inspectors — or face being referred to the Security Council for further action.

Both the US and the EU3 are thought to favour sanctions targeted on Iran’s nuclear programme and the clerical elite behind the regime.

This could include a ban on its 100 top leaders travelling outside Iran, as well as freezing their bank accounts.

But Ms Rice’s meeting today with her Russian counterpart could be crucial in determining how the international community will proceed.

Russia and China, both of which are permanent members of the UN Security Council, are reluctant to authorise even limited sanctions.

In Tehran, Mr Larijani said that Iran still wanted to negotiate but added: “We will definitely resume our enrichment if Iran is referred to the Security Council.

“The American Government needs to create some kind of crisis because, now, in regard to Iraq, they have made a huge mess, and now they have to redirect the attention of the world to something else.”



November 2003
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN’s nuclear regulator, reports that Iran has concealed a programme to enrich uranium for 18 years. The US says that Iran should be reported to the UN Security Council, then sanctions should be imposed

September 2005
The IAEA agrees in principle that the issues fall within the council’s authority

January 30, 2006
Five permanent members of the Security Council — the US, Russia, China, Britain and France — agree that the IAEA should report its decisions on steps required of Iran under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to the council

February 2, 2006
The IAEA holds an emergency meeting on Iran

March 2006
A further IAEA report and a Security Council decision on whether to become actively involved are due


November 2002
UN Security Council resolution 1441 passed. UN weapons inspectors led by Hans Blix return to Iraq for the first time in four years

December 7, 2002
Iraq files 12,000-page weapons declaration

December 19
Secretary of State Colin Powell states that Iraq is in material breach of the Security Council resolution

January 16, 2003
UN inspectors find empty chemical warheads February 5, 2003 Powell appears before the UN, claiming that Iraq harbours an al-Qaeda terrorist network

February 24, 2003
Britain and the United States present a draft resolution to the Security Council declaring that Iraq is in material breach of its obligations under resolution 1441. A diplomatic rift ensues with the US and the UK coming under sustained criticism from France, Russia and Germany. The resolution was eventually withdrawn

March 2003
President Bush gives Saddam Hussein an ultimatum to leave power. UN pulls out inspectors from Iraq

March 21, 2003
Invasion of Iraq begins