Wednesday, April 19, 2006

U.S. Envoy: Iran Sanctions Discussed

Henry Meyer, Yahoo News:
A U.S. diplomat said Tuesday that envoys from the five permanent Security Council members plus Germany discussed sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, but failed to reach agreement on how to proceed further.

On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called on Iran to halt all uranium enrichment activities, saying the international community is demanding "urgent and constructive steps" from Tehran to ease concerns about its nuclear program, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

Meanwhile, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told The Associated Press following nearly three hours of talks that diplomats recognized the "need for a stiff response to Iran's flagrant violations of its international responsibilities." READ MORE

President Bush said "all options are on the table" to prevent Iran from developing atomic weapons but that he will continue to focus on diplomacy.

Burns, speaking in Moscow, said sanctions had been discussed during the meeting hosted by Russia but indicated that further talks would be needed.

"Iran's actions last week have deepened concern in the international community and all of us agreed that the actions last week were fundamentally negative and a step backward," he told AP. "So now the task for us is to agree on a way forward."

He was referring to the announcement last week by Iran's hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, that the country had successfully enriched uranium for the first time.

Burns gave no specifics as to the type or timing of sanctions and he refused to say whether Russia had softened its opposition to sanctions against Iran. But he reiterated that the United States expected action in the Security Council after an April 28 deadline for Iran to stop uranium enrichment.

Ahmadinejad remained defiant, warning Tuesday that Iran will "cut off the hand of any aggressor" that threatens it and insisting that its military has to be equipped with the most modern technology.

"The land of Iran has created a powerful army that can powerfully defend the political borders," he told a parade commemorating Iran's Army Day.

The United States and some of its allies suspect Iran's nuclear program is meant to produce weapons, but Tehran insists the program is for peaceful purposes.

Ahmadinejad further complicated the debate last week by claiming his country is testing an advanced P-2 centrifuge, which could be used to more speedily create fuel for power plants or atomic weapons.

Some analysts familiar with the country's technology said he could be exaggerating Iran's capabilities, either to boost his own political support or to persuade the International Atomic Energy Agency to back off.

In Vienna, Austria, diplomats accredited to or associated with the U.N. nuclear watchdog said the claim about the centrifuges was not a surprise.

The diplomats, who demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the confidential Iran file, said past IAEA reports on Iran documented evidence of purchases of components for the centrifuges. But the diplomats noted that Ahmadinejad's comments appeared at odds with Tehran's assertions that no such work had been conducted for years.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki on Monday to urge Tehran to quickly answer questions related to its nuclear bid and halt uranium enrichment, the ministry said Tuesday.

Earlier Tuesday in Washington, Bush also said there should be a unified effort involving countries "who recognize the danger of Iran having a nuclear weapon."

Before the meeting in Moscow, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin reaffirmed Russia's insistence on more diplomatic efforts. "We are convinced that neither sanctions nor the use of force will lead to the solution of the problem," he said in televised comments.

Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Cui Tianka, China's top nonproliferation official, who also attended Tuesday's meeting in Moscow, has appealed to Iranian leaders to reach a negotiated settlement, the Foreign Ministry said Tuesday.

Russia and China, which have strong economic ties to Iran, have opposed punitive measures. Bush said he intends to ask Chinese President Hu Jintao to pressure Iran when the two leaders meet Thursday at the White House.

Britain also urged a peaceful solution to the crisis. "We hope that we'll get behind a diplomatic avenue, a system of increasing but reversible pressure which Iran will listen to," said Julian Reilly of the British Embassy in Moscow.

Associated Press writers Ali Akbar Dareini in Tehran, Iran, Jennifer Loven in Washington and George Jahn in Vienna, Austria, contributed to this story.