Friday, June 02, 2006

Britain Rules Out Force Against Iran

Mark Tran, Guardian:
Military force is not on the agenda in the international impasse over Iran's uranium enrichment programme, Britain said today. The comment from the Foreign Office followed last night's agreement in Vienna on a package of proposals to be presented to Iran.

The five permanent members of the UN security council and Germany signed off on a package of carrots and sticks in the latest initiative to break the diplomatic deadlock over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Last night's package is expected to be presented to Tehran within the next few weeks by the EU's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana. Details of the package have not been made public but the Foreign Office today issued a categorical statement ruling out the use of force.

"All parties are committed to a diplomatic solution," the statement said. "The use of military force was not discussed at all last night. This reflects the fact that military force is not on the agenda."

Earlier Russia said plans to break the impasse excluded the use of military force "in any circumstances". READ MORE

"I can say unambiguously that all the agreements from yesterday's meetings rule out, in any circumstances, the use of military force," the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, was quoted as saying by Moscow's RIA news agency.

But the Bush administration has resisted offering assurances that Iran would not be the target of a military attack. The US today put the matter more starkly.

Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, told CNN: "They need to make a choice. The international community needs to know if negotiation is a real option... Russia and China have signed on to the two paths."

Ms Rice also said Iran had a matter of weeks, not months, in order to respond to the US-EU initiative.

Iran today remained defiant, insisting on its right to proceed with uranium enrichment, a process that can produce material for use in nuclear weapons.

"Iran is determined to go ahead with its nuclear enrichment work for peaceful purposes," said Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation.

In response, the Washington said Iran should take its time over the US-EU approach.

"As we've said, we think it's fair to give the government of Iran an opportunity to review carefully everything in the package," said White House spokesman Tony Snow.

"We understand people may make statements, but we want to give them time to study this." The foreign secretary, Margaret Beckett, last night said Iran would be offered the opportunity to reach agreement with the international community through negotiation and cooperation.

However, she warned Iran to expect "further steps" to be taken by the UN security council if it refused to come to the negotiating table.

"We are prepared to resume negotiations should Iran resume suspension of all enrichment and reprocessing activities, as required by the International Atomic Energy Agency, and we would also suspend action in the security council," she said.

"We have also agreed that, if Iran decides not to engage in negotiation further, steps would have to be taken in the security council." The package to be put before Tehran is believed to include an offer to help build a light-water nuclear reactor.

That is considered less of a threat than Tehran's uranium enrichment programme. If Iran rejects the offer, the US, Britain and France would return to the UN security council to table a resolution setting a deadline for it to suspend uranium enrichment or face sanctions.

These would include a ban on arms sales, no transfer of nuclear technology, no visas for Iranian leaders or officials and a freeze on Iranian assets. Iran has insisted on its "natural right" to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, and has rejected a Washington offer to hold talks on the condition that it suspends enrichment.

Meanwhile, John Negroponte, the head of US intelligence, said Iran could have a nuclear bomb within 10 years. "We don't have a clear-cut knowledge, but the estimate we have made is [that] some time between the beginning of the next decade and the middle of the next decade they might be in a position to have a nuclear weapon, which is a cause of great concern," Mr Negroponte said.

"At the moment, there's an initiative on the table with respect to Iran, and we will have to watch the government of Iran's reaction to that. In the meanwhile, we have to recognise that they are the principal state sponsor of terrorism in the world."