AP: A top State Department official suggested Wednesday that European and other nations might curb trade and investment in Iran if the next round of negotiations does not succeed in halting Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons.
By BARRY SCHWEID
AP Diplomatic Writer
WASHINGTON (AP) – A top State Department official suggested Wednesday that European and other nations might curb trade and investment in Iran if the next round of negotiations does not succeed in halting Iran’s drive for nuclear weapons.
“All of us around the world have to think about how we can influence that government,” said Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns. “And that is certainly one way that many countries around the world can do that.”
Negotiations by Britain, France and Germany with Iran have been sidetracked since the summer. However, Burns said, “We have been hearing from Russia and the Europeans there is likely to be a meeting with the Iranians sometime in the first part of January.”
If diplomacy fails, he said, a growing number of countries is likely to consider such economic weapons as curbs on trade and investments.
“There is a growing diplomatic coalition to apply curbs, and other countries have trade and other weapons,” Burns said, contrasting their ongoing commerce with Iran to a virtual U.S. freeze.
He stressed the United States would not try to organize trade and investment cutoffs. “It’s up to the Europeans to decide. It’s not up to the United States,” he told a few reporters after a speech and news conference at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies.
Burns cited assurances from India that it had no plans for an energy agreement with Iran as an example of growing dissatisfaction with Tehran worldwide.
“There was a time when the United States and a few other countries were a lonely voice,” Burns said. “That’s no longer the case.”
Burns raked the government of Iran’s ultraconservative president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, in his speech. He said Iran was determined to build nuclear weapons, was the most avid supporter of terror groups in the world, and had a dreadful human rights record, engaging in torture and summary executions.
“Oppressive regimes do not survive forever,” Burns said,
At the same time, he dismissed any chance that the Bush administration would pursue a policy of “regime change” in Iran as it did in deposing President Saddam Hussein in neighboring Iraq.
“That is clearly the job of the Iranian people,” he said.
The administration will continue to have limited contact with Iran and rely on ongoing European diplomacy to try to curb Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions, he said.
The State Department announced Monday that the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, had been authorized to meet with Iranian officials about Iraq even though the U.S. and Iran have not had regular diplomatic relations since radical fundamentalists seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran in 1979.
Burns said no U.S. administration had taken “a vow of complete silence” on Iran and that among the contacts were a conversation former Secretary of State Colin Powell held with Iran’s foreign minister and occasional legal discussions concerning the agreement that ended the embassy takeover in 1981.
And yet, he said, he did not see an expansion of diplomatic contact “anytime soon.”
Burns is due to travel to Russia on Thursday. The State Department said the purpose was to pursue joint efforts to counter terror.
Still, Russia has played a growing role in the nuclear negotiations with the Europeans, especially with a proposal to enrich uranium outside Iran as part of a civilian Iranian program.
Burns said the Bush administration had not endorsed the Russian approach. “We continue to take a hard line” on Iran not controlling a process that could produce nuclear weapons, he said.