New York Times: Stymied in its effort to rally a worldwide coalition to press Iran, the Bush administration has opened an unusual diplomatic struggle with Russia, China and India to have Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons activities brought before the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions. New York Times
By STEVEN R. WEISMAN
WASHINGTON – Stymied in its effort to rally a worldwide coalition to press Iran, the Bush administration has opened an unusual diplomatic struggle with Russia, China and India to have Iran’s suspected nuclear weapons activities brought before the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions.
But the administration’s efforts face an uphill battle, endangering its longtime goal of stopping what Western experts say is Iran’s pursuit of a nuclear bomb.
Earlier this week, both Russia and India rebuffed the United States and its European allies, saying they opposed sending the issue to the Council at this time. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Friday, however, that she and President Bush would try to change their minds at United Nations meetings next week.
“We need leadership on this,” Ms. Rice said at a State Department news conference, citing Russia, China and India as vital potential partners in telling Iranian leaders to “live up to their international obligations” to suspend uranium conversion and enrichment.
Iran suspended these activities last year but resumed them last month, rejecting as inadequate the West’s offer of incentives in return for Iran’s pledge to stop uranium conversion and enrichment permanently.
Ms. Rice’s comments reflected a sense of growing urgency over Iran, in part because of what American and European diplomats say are indications that it has recently accelerated activities that the West says are a precursor to making weapons-grade nuclear fuel.
At the moment, however, opposition to further pressure on Iran is widespread among the 35 countries on the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations watchdog, where by tradition an issue is not referred to the Security Council without a broad consensus.
Without that support, it would be easier for Russia or China to veto any Security Council action, Western diplomats fear.
France, Britain, Germany and the leadership of the European Union all favor referring the issue to the Security Council and plan to demand that the board act at its next meeting, on Sept. 19.
But not only India and Russia are opposed to the referral; so are the countries in a bloc of other nations, led by Malaysia, and including Brazil and South Africa, which belong to the so-called nonaligned movement. China has not indicated its preference, but several diplomats say it would have trouble defying the nonaligned bloc.
“This is an I.A.E.A. matter and should be resolved here in Vienna, not at the United Nations Security Council,” Rajmah Hussain, the Malaysian ambassador to the agency, said in an interview. “We do not want to precipitate a crisis.”
Lacking a consensus, the United States and its European allies have shifted strategy and are now trying to get the matter referred to the Security Council by a simple majority of the agency’s board, a step that officials in Vienna say is without precedent. North Korea was referred to the United Nations, for example, by consensus.
The developing nations have been swayed in part by blandishments from Iran, like energy supply contracts, many diplomats say. But they are also supporters of Iran’s right to have complete control over its civilian nuclear reactors, a right that the West says Iran has forfeited because of evidence that it hid its activities from inspectors for many years.
The Bush administration has been demanding for two years that Iran be penalized because of its failure to disclose these activities. But winning agreement for sanctions has been difficult because while a succession of international inspectors have criticized Iran for failing to be candid, they have also failed to turn up concrete evidence of weapons programs.
In a meeting with foreign reporters and academics on Monday, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia said he agreed that Iran needed to be kept from making nuclear arms but added that it was premature to take up the matter at the United Nations. The Indian foreign minister, K. Natwar Singh, visited Tehran last weekend and afterward Indian officials said they agreed with Russia.
“We don’t want to end up in a confrontation with Iran,” a senior Indian official said in an interview from New Delhi. “We’re concerned that if Iran is pushed too far, it will turn its back on the whole dialogue with the Europeans on this.”
A senior State Department official said Friday, however, that India and Russia might still be persuaded in coming days, when Ms. Rice and Mr. Bush plan to step up the pressure.
“We’d like to have a consensus but technically you don’t need one,” said the official. “There’s a very intense diplomatic campaign going on, and the Europeans are fanning out across the globe. We haven’t given up on this.”
India’s rebuff of the administration has been acutely felt. Over the summer, the United States offered India help on civilian nuclear matters, saying it would waive a ban on such help required because of India’s nuclear weapons. Now the United States is pressing India to cooperate on Iran to avoid having Congress void that deal.
The European-American strategy has been dealt other blows recently, including the election of a hard-liner as Iran’s president and a report from the I.A.E.A. on Sept. 2 that was viewed as a mild rebuke of Iran but not the “smoking gun” some had hoped would persuade wavering countries.
American officials maintain that they have already won a major argument, convincing the world that Iran’s activities are improper even if no immediate action is taken.
“The Iranians have miscalculated if they think they have broad support for what they are doing,” R. Nicholas Burns, under secretary of state for political affairs, said in an interview. “They do not have a significant number of countries rushing to their defense. What is likely to happen at the I.A.E.A. and beyond is a ratcheting up of international pressure on Iran.”