Reuters: Iran is “feeling the heat” of international pressure over its nuclear program and Washington will insist the issue be formally referred to the U.N. Security Council, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Thursday. By Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Iran is “feeling the heat” of international pressure over its nuclear program and Washington will insist the issue be formally referred to the U.N. Security Council, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Thursday.
In an interview with Reuters, Rice showed little patience with Iran’s belated interest in a Russian compromise proposal that would keep the case out of the Security Council.
“I think that says something about the role of (international) pressure in this process. It shows the Iranians are feeling the heat,” she said.
The Iranians are “doing nothing but trying to throw up chaff so that they are not referred to the Security Council and people shouldn’t let them get away with it … The time (for a formal referral) has come,” she added.
Iran and China expressed support on Thursday for a Russian compromise proposal to resolve Tehran’s standoff with Western governments which suspect it of secretly planning to build a nuclear bomb.
Tehran has previously shown little interest in the idea, intended to ensure it does not covertly divert enriched fuel toward a weapons program. It has repeatedly insisted it has no plans to build bombs but has the right to enrich uranium fuel on its territory for nuclear power generation.
Iran’s apparent change of heart, coupled with backing from major power China, raised the possibility that a Feb. 2 meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog — the International Atomic Energy Agency — could once again delay a decision on referral to the Security Council, which could impose sanctions.
Many countries are reluctant to push a confrontation with Iran, a major oil producing state which has threatened to stop cooperating with IAEA inspectors if the referral goes forward.
Separately, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, said on CNN: “The Iranians have been very effective in using their oil and natural gas to persuade China, India and other countries to their side. We have to correct that.”
The IAEA board of governors is to discuss Iran at an emergency meeting Feb. 2-3 in Vienna.
Aiming to avoid a showdown, Russia has suggested that instead of a formal referral to the Security Council, the IAEA board could just ask the council to discuss the Iran issue and then send it back to the IAEA.
But this informal move carries less legal weight and would mean the council could not consider sanctions.
The IAEA board had previously found Iran in non-compliance with its non-proliferation obligations but delayed sending the issue to the Security Council, while giving more time for European-led negotiations to proceed.
Since then, negotiations collapsed, Iran broke seals on nuclear facilities under IAEA monitoring and declared it would resume sensitive nuclear enrichment activities, which could give it fuel for a bomb.
‘ONE STEP AT A TIME’
“The time for talking outside the Security Council is over,” Rice said.
She indicated the first step in the Security Council would be a president’s statement showing united international support for Iran to resume a freeze on enrichment.
Rice refused to predict how quickly the United Nations might move to sanctions, saying “we’ll take this one step at a time.”
But she stressed that great care would be taken to avoid sanctions that target the Iranian people, as opposed to government leaders. As an example, she said Iranian soccer players should not be banned from the 2006 World Cup in Germany.
Even officials and experts who support Security Council referral worry that opposition by veto-wielding Russia and China could ultimately thwart any council action, undermining non-proliferation beyond Iran.
But Rice, looking at the bright side, said she was unable to say Russia and China would not ultimately back punitive action against Iran because both consider Iran’s nuclear ambitions a “very serious issues.”