U.S. Wants Europe to Isolate Iran if U.N. Balks
Steven R. Weisman, The New York Times:
The Bush administration called today for Russia and the countries of Europe to impose their own penalties on Iran over its suspected nuclear arms program if no agreement on sanctions can be reached soon at the United Nations Security Council.
"If the Security Council cannot act over a reasonable period of time, then there will be an opportunity for groups of countries to organize themselves together for the purpose of isolating the Iranians diplomatically and economically," said R. Nicholas Burns, under secretary of state for political affairs and the lead envoy on Iran.
He added that "it's not beyond the realm of the possible that at some point in the future a group of countries could get together, if the Security Council is not able to act, to take collective economic action collective action on sanction." READ MORE
It was not clear that Europeans or the Russians were interested in a sanctions approach without the United Nations Security Council authorizing it, and American and European officials said they still hope the council will move in that direction next month. A European official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the matter, said several European countries would resist the approach of letting countries proceed without an international consensus.
"If one or more countries break off and impose international sanctions, the Iranians would be thrilled," he said. "They would just be able to play countries off against each other. Going for sanctions, that would be a wasted exercise."
Mr. Burns's comments at a news conference in Washington came after several weeks of what some European and American officials say has been a frustrating period of diplomacy, with both Russia and China resisting the administration's efforts to get the Security Council to act against Iran.
The under secretary was in Moscow last week to try to get the Russians to go along with quick action at the Security Council. He said that he got agreement on the general need for such action but not on specifics. "We did not agree on the specific tactical way forward," he said.
Indeed, nearly three years of threats and diplomatic maneuverings, coupled with offers of economic incentives for Iran if it abandons its uranium enrichment activities, have resulted in Iran speeding its program up rather than slowing it down.
"In terms of activities on the ground in Iran, it's fair to say, I believe, that the Iranians have put both feet on the accelerator," Robert Joseph, the under secretary of state for arms control and international security, said at the news conference with Mr. Burns.
He cited Iran's claim that it had 110 tons of uranium hexaflouride, a precursor for nuclear fuel in a civilian reactor but also potentially enough for 10 nuclear weapons. Iran's additional claim that it had enriched uranium to a level of 3.5 percent means that it is on its way to higher levels for use in weapons.
The Bush administration has sought to organize a widening circle of countries to put pressure on Iran, including the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council and the so-called Group of Eight nations of leading industrial democracies that will be holding a summit meeting in St. Petersburg in July.
But the price of bringing Russia, China, India and other countries into seeking to stop Iran's nuclear enrichment program has been going along with their refusal to consider sanctions.
In the last two weeks, American officials say they are pleased that at least economic sanctions are being more widely discussed.
The week before last, Javier Solana, the European Union's principal foreign affairs envoy, proposed a series of possible economic penalties on Iran that won approval in Washington. They included imposing stricter export controls on high technology shipments to Iran and revocation of visas for any Iranian officials linked to the nuclear program.
In addition, the European list implied a freeze of personal assets for certain Iranian officials and a halt in defense-related contracts for Iran, which some European countries continue to honor.
But another senior European official, also asking not to be identified, said the list did not mean Europe was ready to impose these steps. The official noted that Mr. Solana listed the steps as "options for reflection" without saying they would be implemented. "We haven't called them options for action," the official said.
Iran's economic links with Europe and Russia are enormous, particularly in the energy sector. Iran is one of the world's leading producers of oil and natural gas, but even American officials say they doubt that any sanctions would include a ban on such imports to the West.
Mr. Burns also acknowledged that Russian officials rebuffed an American request that it half the sale of anti-aircraft missile equipment to Iran. He said that "we hope and trust" that this sale, announced last December, would not go forward.
"It just doesn't stand to reason that Russia would continue with arms sales, particularly of the type envisioned," Mr. Burns said. But he said that the United States still had work to do to persuade the Russian government.