Friday, May 12, 2006

US stands tough on Iran

Carol Giacomo, Reuters:
The United States will not hold direct contacts with Iran and insists that sanctions must be part of a new carrots-and-sticks offer being drawn up by major powers to curb Iran's nuclear activities, a senior administration official said.

Addressing an influential Middle East policy group on Thursday night, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns promised that Washington will not "quit the diplomatic track easily."

American experts and political figures have increasingly urged the administration to talk directly to Iran in searching for a diplomatic solution.

But Burns rejected that, saying the world must "put responsibility where it lies" -- on Iran, not the United States -- for defying the international community and fanning the nuclear crisis.

He warned Iran and other key players that "we can't be captive to endless discussions in the (U.N.) Security Council and we won't allow ourselves to be." READ MORE

Burns stressed the need for Washington to maintain a "hard edge" to its policy as the international community seeks to curb Iranian activities that the United States and its allies say are aimed at producing nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian energy program. Tehran denies the charge.

In the latest effort to resolve the crisis, Britain, France and Germany, with backing from the United States, Russia and China, are to unveil in the next 10 days a package of inducements and penalties for Iran, depending on whether it chooses the path of cooperation or resistance, Burns said.

It is still unclear whether Russia and China -- which fear a worsening crisis with oil-producing Iran -- would endorse an offer that includes sanctions, but the United States would insist it includes penalties as well as benefits, he said.

"The package cannot be whole until both halves are joined together," Burns told the annual dinner of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Because of Russian and Chinese opposition, Washington and key European allies have so far failed to secure a U.N. Security Council resolution that would legally oblige Iran to halt all uranium enrichment work or face possible sanctions.


Burns said the package being drafted by the Europeans would restate Moscow's previous offer to guarantee Iran nuclear fuel for power generation that is produced in Russia, and also include other economic and technological incentives.

The head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, on Thursday welcomed moves to avert possible U.N. sanctions against Tehran and appealed for compromise, as Iran's president said he was ready to talk.

ElBaradei called for both sides to move away from a "war of the words" and said, "I hope that at this stage we will use more carrots before we think of using sticks."

But Burns said that given an acceleration in Iran's nuclear program, it is imperative to "raise the cost" this year on Tehran if it persists in moving forward with enriching nuclear fuel against the demands of the Security Council.

Iran said any European proposals would have to allow it to enrich uranium for atomic research and development purposes. Burns ruled this out.

He dismissed the unprecedented 18-page letter this week from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to President Bush as a "missed opportunity" to seriously address issues at the heart of the dispute.

The United States broke diplomatic relations with Iran in 1980 when 52 Americans were being held hostage by Iranian militants who seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran months after the 1979 Islamic revolution.