New York Times: The American and European drive to rebuke Iran over its nuclear activities ran into new difficulties on Monday, raising doubts about whether the International Atomic Energy Agency would quickly refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council for possible punitive action, European diplomats said.
New York Times
By STEVEN R. WEISMAN
WASHINGTON, Jan. 23 – The American and European drive to rebuke Iran over its nuclear activities ran into new difficulties on Monday, raising doubts about whether the International Atomic Energy Agency would quickly refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council for possible punitive action, European diplomats said.
The diplomats said that Russian resistance to pressing the case against Iran, as the West wants, when the atomic energy agency board meets on Feb. 2, made it increasingly unlikely that the board would adopt the kind of resolution being sought by the United States and the Europeans.
President Bush said in a speech on Monday at Kansas State University that the West could be “blackmailed” if Iran were to get a nuclear weapon. But he also sought to address the Iranian people, telling them that the dispute was with their leaders, not them.
Another blow to Western efforts to press Iran came Monday from Mohamed ElBaradei, director general of the atomic energy agency, the United Nations’ nuclear monitoring body. Dr. ElBaradei rebuffed an American and European request to issue a sweeping “progress report” on Iran’s case in the next few weeks, presumably condemning its nuclear activities.
In letters written to American and other ambassadors to the atomic agency, Dr. ElBaradei said that “a detailed report will only be available” in March, but that the agency would provide “an update brief in February on where it stands in its investigation of outstanding issues.”
A European diplomat, who along with other diplomats spoke on the condition of anonymity because the agency’s board of governors had not taken an official position yet on Dr. ElBaradei’s letter, said that without a tough assessment on Iran from the director general, it would be very difficult to get the board to refer Iran to the United Nations Security Council, as the United States and Europe are seeking.
Taken together, Dr. ElBaradei’s move and the Russian resistance to an early referral posed the threat of a major setback for the West in its efforts to isolate Iran diplomatically at an early date.
Mr. Bush’s comment on Monday appeared to reflect a growing consensus in the West that if sanctions are eventually considered for Iran, they will not be likely to include an oil embargo or other steps that might cause resentment among Iranians or hardship in Europe and the United States.
He repeated the call for the atomic energy agency’s board to refer Iran’s case to the United Nations Security Council, but he said, “I also want the Iranian people to hear loud and clear, and that is, we have no beef with you.”
Indeed, American officials say that if there are sanctions, they will not bar Iranians from traveling abroad for sports or cultural events.
An effort to persuade the agency’s board to refer Iran’s case to the Security Council has been American policy for more than a year, but the Bush administration has deferred to Britain, France and Germany, which continued until recently to negotiate with Iran over a suspension and an eventual permanent dismantling of its nuclear enrichment activities.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in Washington, however, that it remained administration policy to seek a referral vote at the board’s meeting on Feb. 2.
“The Iranians have done plenty for a referral at this point in time,” Ms. Rice said, citing Iran’s decision earlier this month to end its moratorium on enrichment and reprocessing of uranium. “It seems to me that the case for referral is very strong and that’s what we intend to seek at the I.A.E.A. board of governors meeting.”
Iran defends its nuclear activities as legal, asserting that because they are part of a civilian energy program or normal research activities they are permitted under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. American and European diplomats, citing Iran’s failure to disclose many of its activities, say they are part of a clandestine nuclear weapons program.
It would take a majority of the atomic energy agency’s 35 board members to refer Iran formally to the Security Council. Secretary Rice reiterated Monday that the United States believes it has the votes. Some European and American officials say there could be 20 votes in favor of such a referral.
But some European diplomats argue that a referral without Russian and Chinese support would send a mixed message. As an alternative to a referral, Russia wants the agency merely to report Iran’s activities at its meetings on Feb. 2 and 3, and let the Security Council consider them.
The difference between a report and a referral was described by diplomats as significant. “A referral implies action,” said a European official. “It implies a request for action by the Security Council. It also implies handing the matter over to the Council for action. A report does not imply those things.”
Then if other negotiations fail to secure Iranian cooperation on freezing its enrichment processes, Russia would be expected to bring Iran before a regular atomic energy board session in early March. The United States and its European partners do not want to wait that long, however.
But European diplomats said that the Russian formula was emerging as a likely alternative to the American-backed plan for early action.
“The decision of ElBaradei to not advance a report right away makes the Russian timetable more likely than the European timetable,” said a European diplomat.
Dr. ElBaradei, in resisting requests for a formal report before the Feb. 2 meeting, said in his letter that “outstanding issues” related to Iran’s earlier actions on its nuclear program were still “being pursued with the Iranian authorities.” One of his deputies was going to Iran this week to discuss some of them, he said.
“Due process, therefore, must take its course before the Secretariat is able to submit a detailed report,” he said, referring to his office at the atomic agency.
European and American diplomats said it was possible that Dr. ElBaradei could deliver an interim report to the board sufficiently condemnatory of Iran’s activities to lead to a referral. But their bigger worry was that Iran would cooperate with international inspectors just enough to delay any action for months.
David E. Sanger contributed reporting from Manhattan, Kansas, for this article, and Elaine Sciolino from Paris.