Iran Nuclear NewsWest tells Russia it won't press to penalize Iran...

West tells Russia it won’t press to penalize Iran now

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New York Times: The United States and Europe, seeking Russia’s help in bringing Iran’s nuclear activities before the United Nations Security Council for review, have assured Russian officials that they are not pressing for sanctions against Iran right now, American and European diplomats said Wednesday. New York Times

By STEVEN R. WEISMAN

WASHINGTON, Jan. 18 – The United States and Europe, seeking Russia’s help in bringing Iran’s nuclear activities before the United Nations Security Council for review, have assured Russian officials that they are not pressing for sanctions against Iran right now, American and European diplomats said Wednesday.

The diplomats said that instead they were pursuing a limited effort to convene a Security Council debate and send the matter back to the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations’ nuclear monitor, for further efforts to get Iran to suspend uranium activities that the West suspects are part of a nuclear weapons program.

“We are not seeking a sanction mechanism at this moment,” a European diplomat said. “We are pursuing a gradual approach. We are trying to tell Iran that what the I.A.E.A. is telling them is exactly what the Security Council thinks. It’s an empowering process for the I.A.E.A.”

European diplomats said the Council could act either by passing a resolution or by allowing its president to issue a declaration in its name.

The West’s incremental approach is a response to Russian and Chinese reluctance to press for immediate sanctions, despite their concern that Iran has broken its commitment to suspend uranium enrichment activities. The Russians and Chinese say they do not want Iran to retaliate by breaking off talks and forcing international inspectors to leave the country.

On the other hand, some diplomats eager to press Iran on nuclear matters said they were concerned that the steps being contemplated might be too small to be taken seriously in Tehran.

The diplomats who described the situation, from several nations, spoke on the condition of anonymity so that they could speak more freely while the negotiations continue.

The Bush administration has said for two years that its ultimate objective is to bring Iran before the Security Council for possible censure or sanctions. But it has proceeded slowly, deferring to European efforts to negotiate. That deference is still part of the American approach despite Iran’s recent actions.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, after meeting with Javier Solana, the chief European Union envoy, said Wednesday that “it is now important for the I.A.E.A. board of governors to act so that Iran knows that the international community will not tolerate its continued acting with impunity against the interests of the international community.”

Afterward, Mr. Solana said the Europeans and the United States were considering a Russian proposal presented as an alternative to the possible referral of Iran’s case to the Security Council by the atomic energy agency. The Russian proposal was to have the Security Council take up Iran, but without a formal “referral” from the agency.

Whether or not there is a formal referral from the agency is technical but significant, Mr. Solana said. Without a referral, the Security Council could debate the matter but not consider sanctions.

“A referral to the Security Council is in itself a very important decision,” Mr. Solana said, suggesting that the Russian idea did not go far enough. He said that there was “nothing fundamentally wrong” with the Russian idea but that it implied too much of a delay.

“Referral means something which has legal consequences for the relationship of this dossier to the Security Council,” he said.

The European and American approach has been codified in a draft resolution to be presented to the International Atomic Energy Agency for possible adoption at an emergency meeting on Feb. 2. The Western timetable is for Iran to be “referred” at that meeting and then considered at the Security Council and then referred back to the atomic agency.

The Russian proposal, by contrast, calls for no formal action by the atomic agency on Feb. 2, but some kind of debate at the Security Council in February, possibly with the agency director, Mohamed ElBaradei, taking part. Then the agency could take up the subject of Iran in March.

American and European officials said they did not feel comfortable putting off the entire matter until March. Iran, many Western experts say, is perhaps only a year or two away from developing the capacity to operate centrifuges that enrich uranium and take other steps enabling it to make a nuclear weapon.

Mr. Solana and Ms. Rice also reiterated Wednesday that they would not accept Iran’s latest offer to talk about its nuclear program unless it returned to a full suspension of its uranium enrichment activities.

It was Iran that effectively cut off negotiations by breaking the moratorium on enrichment, Ms. Rice said, adding, “As that condition exists, I am sensing from the Europeans that there’s not much to talk about.”

Britain, France and Germany, also representing Europe, have engaged in talks for a year with the objective of persuading Iran to suspend and then shut down its uranium processing and suspected weapons-making activities in return for economic, political and security benefits from the West.

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