Tuesday, April 18, 2006

U.S. and Iran Take Tough Stances in Standoff

Brian Knowlton, The New York Times:
As diplomats met in Moscow today in a bid to defuse the Iranian nuclear standoff, the American and Iranian leaders, both using tough language, staked out unyielding positions.

President Bush declined to rule out a nuclear attack to stop Iran from building atomic weapons if diplomacy fails, saying that "all options are on the table." But he added, "We want to solve this issue diplomatically and we're working hard to do so."

In Tehran, a defiant President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the Iranian military that it had to be "constantly ready," and he warned bluntly that Iran would "cut off the hand of any aggressor," The Associated Press reported.

Tensions over Iran have helped push oil prices to record highs. Crude oil for May delivery rose 90 cents today to settle at $71.35 a barrel, after trading as high as $71.60 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.

The diplomats meeting in Moscow, representing the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and Germany, hoped to narrow their own differences over how best to persuade Iran to halt work on nuclear weapons. No details emerged immediately from the session.

Mr. Ahmadinejad's defiant warning came in a martial setting, at a Tehran parade commemorating Army Day, The A.P. reported. Speaking hours before the Moscow meeting, he told the military that it must be prepared to defend Iran.

"Today, you are among the world's most powerful armies because you rely on God," Mr. Ahmadinejad declared.

"The land of Iran has created a powerful army that can powerfully defend the political borders and the integrity of the Iranian nation and cut off the hand of any aggressor and place the sign of disgrace on their forehead."

But he sought to underline that Iran bore no aggressive intentions unless attacked. "The power of our army will be no threat to any country," he said. "It is humble toward friends and a shooting star toward enemies."

The United States and Britain have said that if Iran continues uranium-enrichment activities past an April 28 deadline set by the Security Council, they will press for a resolution making the demand compulsory.

Russia and China, both with trade and strategic ties to Iran, have insisted that diplomacy will require more time. A Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mikhail Kamynin, said earlier that "neither sanctions nor the use of force will lead to the solution of the problem," the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. But Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called on Iran to halt uranium enrichment and provide more information on its program.

Mr. Bush, in brief comments made after announcing White House staffing changes, said he would urge President Hu Jintao of China to increase its pressure on Iran when Mr. Hu visits the White House on Thursday. The Chinese leader began his four-day trip to the United States today in Seattle.

The top Chinese nonproliferation official, Cui Tiankai, visited Tehran over the weekend to urge Iranian leaders to seek a negotiated solution, officials said.

Mr. Bush urged a united effort by countries "who recognize the danger of Iran having a nuclear weapon." The United States has been working closely with Britain, France and Germany on the issue.

The president's comment that "all options are on the table" came after a reporter asked whether, when Mr. Bush has used those words previously, he meant to include the possibility of a nuclear strike.

"All options are on the table," Mr. Bush replied plainly, before adding, "We want to solve this issue diplomatically." The phrase about "options" has become a commonplace of administration officials since last summer in describing concerns about Iran.

It was used last month by Vice President Dick Cheney, who seemed to hint of military action or even the overthrow of the Tehran government. "We join other nations in sending that regime a clear message," Mr. Cheney said. "We will not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon." He also said the Security Council would "impose meaningful consequences" if Iran remained in defiance.

Mr. Ahmadinejad's speech was broadcast live on state-run Iranian television, and foreign military attach├ęs attended the parade, during which Iran displayed radar-avoiding missiles and super-fast torpedoes.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, who has issued a series of highly provocative comments since coming to office, jolted outside observers last week by saying that Iran had enriched uranium using 164 centrifuges, a step that could lead either to developing power generation or to the construction of atomic bombs.

Iran also asserted that it is pursuing a far more sophisticated method of making atomic fuel, using a so-called P-2 centrifuge, which could greatly speed its progress to developing a nuclear weapon.

While Iran insists that it has the right to conduct research aimed at civilian energy production, the United States has said that Iran lost the world's trust by hiding portions of its nuclear program for years. American officials also point to Mr. Ahmadinejad's public calls for the destruction of Israel.

In Washington, the State Department has confirmed that Mohammad Nahavandian, an aide to the top Iranian nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, was in Washington.

But Sean McCormack, the department spokesman, said, "He's not here for meetings with U.S. government officials, to my knowledge." READ MORE