Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Blair Cautions Against `Message of Weakness' to Iran

Mark Deen, Bloomberg:
British Prime Minister Tony Blair warned against sending a ``message of weakness'' to Iran and backed President George W. Bush's vow to keep military options open to prevent the country from acquiring nuclear weapons. Blair spoke in Parliament today after Labour Party lawmaker Michael Meacher asked him for an ``absolute assurance'' that the U.K. wouldn't support military action against Iran.

``At a point in time when the president of Iran is talking about wiping Israel off the face of the earth and when there are young people signing up to be suicide bombers, I do not think that this is the time to send a message of weakness,'' Blair said. READ MORE

The United Nations Security Council demanded the suspension of Iran's program by the end of this month as the UN's nuclear agency checks Iranian claims that it produced a supply of enriched uranium sufficient to fuel a reactor. The U.S. considers the program a front for the development of nuclear weapons. Iran, the world's second-largest holder of oil and gas, maintains the program is for electricity generation.

The UN's International Atomic Energy Agency on March 8 referred the case to the Security Council after it conducted three years of inspections and failed to conclude that Iran's atomic work is peaceful. The agency had condemned Iran as early as November 2003 for concealing parts of its nuclear program for almost two decades.

Iranian Delegation

Iran sent a team of deputies from the Foreign Ministry and National Security Council to Moscow today, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told state-run Fars News agency. The delegation will hold talks with the five permanent member countries of the Security Council -- U.S., the U.K., France, Russia and China -- as well as Germany, he said.

While Blair repeated previous British government comments that suggested no attack is imminent, he emphasized the need to be firm against the Iranian government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for the destruction of Israel.

``Let's be quite clear on what is happening: they're in breach of their international obligations,'' Blair said. ``This is the moment for the world to send a clear and united message to the Iranian regime that they have to desist from that.''

Ahmadinejad, who last week announced Iran's enrichment of uranium, said his country's forces will use ``the latest technology'' against enemies and ``cut off the hand of any aggressor.''

The New Yorker Magazine this month carried a report suggesting the U.S. is preparing to use air strikes and tactical nuclear weapons to destroy Iran's suspected atomic weapons program.

`Wild Speculation'

Bush said on April 10 that such reports amounted to ``wild speculation,'' though he has repeatedly refused to rule out any options.

``The president of the United States is not going to take any option off the table,'' Blair said today. ``We are actively pursuing a diplomatic solution.''

Britain is the second-biggest contributor of troops to coalition forces in Iraq behind the U.S. Blair supported the U.S.- led invasion in 2003 in the face of opposition from some lawmakers and polls showing the British public didn't favor war.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mark Deen in London at