Wednesday, April 19, 2006

U.S. Says "New urgency" to Curb Iran

Christian Lowe, Reuters:
Russia said on Wednesday it wanted no action against Iran before an April 28 U.N. deadline set for it to halt uranium enrichment, but a top U.S. official said other countries were inching toward sanctions.

Tensions remained high, with oil prices hitting a high above $73, partly driven by fears the dispute could disrupt shipments from the world's fourth-largest oil exporter.

"What I heard in the room last night was not agreement on the specifics but to the general notion that Iran has to feel isolation and that there is a cost to what they are doing," UnderSecretary of State Nicholas Burns told reporters.

"Now we need to go beyond that and agree on the specifics of what measures we need to put that into operation," he said.

He said Iran's shock announcement last week that it had enriched uranium to a low level and planned to produce it on an industrial scale had focused the minds of the international community.

The United States and its European allies say Tehran could divert highly enriched uranium to make bombs.

"What is new is a greater sense of urgency given what the Iranians did last week ... Nearly every country is considering some sort of sanctions and that is a new development. We heard last night and again today that all of those that spoke are looking at sanctions," Burns said.

In a surprise development, an Iranian delegation appeared later in the day in Moscow for talks with officials from the so-called EU3 -- Britain, France and Germany -- although a spokesman for the British Embassy in Moscow said there were no major breakthroughs.

"The Iranians set out their position and we listened carefully but there were no significant breakthroughs," the embassy spokesman said.

The U.N. Security Council on March 29 gave Iran a month to halt enrichment and answer questions from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on its nuclear program.


Russia and China, which both have veto power in the council, say they are not convinced sanctions would work. U.S. officials had hoped to use the talks to persuade them to take a tougher line on Iran, which it suspects of seeking nuclear weapons.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said some countries, including Russia, wanted to wait until the U.N. nuclear watchdog reports on Iranian compliance on April 28 before acting.

"We are convinced of the need to wait for the IAEA report due at the end of the month," Lavrov told reporters.

An Iranian delegation headed to Moscow for talks on the dispute, Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki told state radio.

He said officials from the Foreign Ministry and the Supreme National Security Council would "discuss possible solutions which could pave the way to reach a comprehensive understanding based on a recognition of Iran's right to nuclear technology".

Iran says it only wants nuclear power for civilian use, but Russia said Tehran was not responding to international demands.

One diplomat from a country that opposes Iran's nuclear ambitions, said Iran could suggest a "pause".

"This is to prepare the ground for renewing negotiations with the Europeans," the diplomat, said about the proposal. It was unclear how long the pause would be.

A senior EU3 diplomat said the Iranians were welcome to present such an initiative and halt their enrichment research work. But it would have to be more than a brief technical pause in order for the Europeans to revive negotiations with Tehran.

Burns said Washington was opposed to allowing Iran any kind of pause, calling some of Iran's negotiating positions "a ruse".

"One of the core points that I made, supported by a great number of people in the room is, we are not going to agree to any pause by Iran," Burns said. READ MORE

"All of us made that point, that we are not going to fall for the ruse of a temporary pause, knowing that the Iranians, President Ahmadinejad said, they will not be stopped on their route to enrichment."

Tuesday's meeting of deputy foreign ministers from Russia, China, the United States, Germany, France and Britain underlined international differences over punitive action against Iran.

All the powers have said they are determined to solve the problem through diplomatic means, but the United States is alone among them in not ruling out military action.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Tuesday's meeting had been "totally fruitless".

President Bush planning to raise the issue with his visiting Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao.

(Additional reporting by Simon Webb and Madeline Chambers in London, Anna Willard in Paris, Louis Charbonneau in Berlin, Meg Clothier in Moscow and Edmund Blair in Tehran)