Iran Nuclear NewsU.S. seeks deadline in dispute with Iran

U.S. seeks deadline in dispute with Iran

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Washington Post: The Bush administration, preparing to take Iran’s case to the U.N. Security Council as early as next week, is seeking a 30-day deadline for Tehran to halt its nuclear program and cooperate with international inspectors or face severe diplomatic pressures, according to several senior U.S. and European officials. Washington Post

By Dafna Linzer and Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writers

Page A14

NEW YORK, March 3 — The Bush administration, preparing to take Iran’s case to the U.N. Security Council as early as next week, is seeking a 30-day deadline for Tehran to halt its nuclear program and cooperate with international inspectors or face severe diplomatic pressures, according to several senior U.S. and European officials.

But the officials, who discussed the details of the diplomatic strategy on the condition of anonymity, said they expected tough negotiations among the Security Council’s 15 members and said much hinges on Russia.

Russian officials have spent the past several weeks trying to persuade the Islamic republic to freeze much of its nuclear infrastructure and transfer the most sensitive aspects to Russia. Iran has expressed interest in a joint uranium-enrichment venture with Moscow but also wants to enrich uranium at home, which it says would be used for an energy program. Iran’s chief negotiator, Ali Larijani, reiterated that position to senior European officials Friday in Vienna.

The Bush administration asserts that Iran’s nuclear energy program is a cover for bomb-making. A three-year investigation by inspectors with the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency has not found proof of an Iranian nuclear weapons effort. But the agency also cannot determine whether Iran’s nuclear program is strictly for peaceful purposes.

For years Washington was alone in its desire to push the issue of Iran’s program to the U.N. Security Council. And on Monday, members of the IAEA board will meet in Vienna to discuss the agency’s latest findings and formally hand the issue off to the Security Council, where the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France have more influence and can raise the possibility of imposing sanctions.

Going to the council represents the second time in four years that the Bush administration has tried to persuade the U.N. to pressure a Muslim country accused of hiding a weapons program. Wary of the comparisons to Iraq, where no weapons of mass destruction were found, the White House is hoping a combination of diplomacy, U.N. inspections and negotiations will succeed in pressuring Iran. At the same time, Washington hopes to ease the concerns of allies suspicious of U.S. intentions.

U.S. and European officials, who have claimed international consensus on the Iran issue, hope the matter could be taken up by the council by the end of next week. But it is clear that stark differences remain among council members.

U.S. diplomats have prepared a draft statement for adoption by the council, noting the IAEA’s latest findings. Diplomats said the U.S. draft gives Iran 30 days to suspend its nuclear activities and cooperate with inspectors or face the possibility of tougher diplomatic action. U.S. and European officials have been discussing a number of measures inside and outside the council’s purview, such as travel bans on Iranian officials, economic sanctions or an oil embargo.

“The idea is to begin slowly, with a presidential statement, set timetables and then give Iran a certain deadline to respond,” one senior U.S. official said. “After that we push harder with a resolution.”

But Russian officials, unwilling to give up on talks with the Iranians, which have not yet yielded results, are unlikely to go for such a tough start.

“There is no collectively discussed and agreed strategy of what we all will be doing in the Security Council if the issue is there,” Russian Foreign Minster Sergei Lavrov told reporters Friday in Moscow. Lavrov will visit Washington on Tuesday for talks with President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Bush administration officials said they expect to get a sense then about how far Russia is prepared to go in pressuring Iran, which has been a close economic partner for Moscow. Russian officials are currently suggesting giving the Iranians anywhere from 60 days to three months to continue negotiations and respond to additional concerns from the IAEA, diplomats said.

For Washington, ensuring the issue remains on the council’s agenda is key. John R. Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, was charged “to make sure this stays in the council,” something Russia and China would like to avoid, a U.S. official said.

U.S. diplomats conferred with French, British, Russian and Chinese officials Thursday and Friday in New York to discuss Iran.

Some Iran and U.N. experts believe it is unlikely the council will agree to impose economic sanctions even if Iran continues to defy calls by the IAEA board to freeze parts of its energy program.

China blocked Security Council action against North Korea, which the IAEA referred to the council in 2003 after Pyongyang withdrew from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This time, Russia and China have said they are committed to seeing Iran freeze its nuclear enrichment activities to assure the international community it has no intention of pursuing a nuclear weapon. But they both firmly oppose punitive measures to compel Iran to do so and favor letting the IAEA handle the crisis.

“You have this basic split between the United States, Britain and France, who want the issue in the council, versus the Russians and Chinese, who for slightly different reasons would like to keep the issue in Vienna as long as possible,” said Flynt L. Leverett of the Brookings Institution’s Saban Center for Middle East Policy.

Noting commercial and political interests, Leverett said that “for an energy hungry country like China, having a privileged relationship with a big oil supplier like Iran is a big deal.”

Lynch reported from the United Nations.

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