Wednesday, May 10, 2006

U.S., in Shift, Will Slow Push For U.N. Action Against Iran

Carla Anne Robbins, The Wall Street Journal:
With Russia and China balking, the U.S. and its allies will slow their push for U.N. Security Council action against Iran and develop a new list of incentives and punishments intended to persuade Tehran to curtail its nuclear program.

Speaking privately yesterday, U.S. and European officials acknowledged there is little hope that a new offer, to be developed by the Europeans, will alter Iran's behavior. But they said it may be the only way to get Russia and China to agree to impose sanctions should Iran continue to defy the council over demands that it halt enriching uranium, which is usable for nuclear fuel or potentially a nuclear weapon. READ MORE

The change of tactics drew private grumbling from some parts of the Bush administration, where hard-line officials had argued for forcing Russia's and China's hands with a swift vote on a toughly worded resolution at the Security Council.

The new path, first proposed by the British in March, requires the U.S. to align itself more explicitly with a set of incentives for Iran -- something President Bush has resisted until now. And it will almost certainly give Tehran more time to perfect its nuclear skills.

Diplomats said the "carrots" would likely focus on guaranteeing Tehran access to civilian nuclear technology, while the "sticks" would be a progression of bans on trade with Iran's nuclear and military industries; travel restrictions for Iranian officials involved in those efforts; and a freeze on certain government assets.

It isn't clear whether Tehran is interested in bargaining, having rejected a European offer last summer that included pledges of cooperation in the nuclear-energy field, and other economic and technical cooperation. "The significant difference," one diplomat said, is that this offer would come with the backing of the U.S., Russia and China and would have an explicit threat of punishment attached. "This would underline the seriousness of Iran's choice: integration or isolation."

U.S. and European officials have been pressing for passage of a so-called Chapter VII resolution ordering Tehran to suspend its production of enriched uranium.

U.S. and European officials had hoped to bring Russia and China onboard. But at a Monday night dinner in New York, hosted by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov was adamant that Russia would fiercely oppose a Chapter VII resolution that could open the door to economic sanctions or potential military action.

Ms. Rice and her top aides, who had opposed the British idea six weeks ago, apparently decided that they had little choice but to shift course. Ms. Rice said yesterday that the U.S. is ready "to take the time" to develop a common strategy on Iran but insisted that the Security Council must still send a strong message that the Iranians'"behavior to date is unacceptable, and that they need to return to the negotiating table."

U.S. officials said they would continue to push for a Chapter VII resolution to precede, or at least coincide with, the new offer. European officials suggested that the offer would almost certainly come before any Security Council vote.

Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said yesterday that he is waiting for a reaction after sending an 18-page letter to President Bush on Monday castigating the U.S. for a host of misdeeds. Iranian officials characterized the letter -- which made only a passing reference to the country's nuclear program -- as a new opening to the U.S. American officials dismissed the letter, saying it didn't address U.S. concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Write to Carla Anne Robbins at