Frustrated world powers send Iran dispute back to U.N. Security Council

Thursday, July 13, 2006

PARIS -- Frustrated world powers agreed Wednesday to send Iran before the United Nations Security Council for possible punishment, saying the Iranians had given no sign they would bargain in earnest over their disputed nuclear program.

The move amounted to calling Iran's bluff. Diplomats said recent meetings with Iran's nuclear negotiator have gone nowhere and it was clear Tehran hoped to play for time or exploit potential divisions among the six powers that have offered new talks.

The United States and other nations wanted Iran to say by Wednesday whether it would meet terms to begin negotiations on a package of economic and energy incentives in exchange for at least a short-term end to Tehran's program to enrich uranium.

The Security Council's permanent members said Iranian leaders had had long enough to respond.

"The Iranians have given no indication at all that they are ready to engage seriously on the substance of our proposals," French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said on behalf of the United States, France, Britain, Russia and China, the five permanent Security Council members, plus Germany and the European Union.

Though Russia and China signed on to Wednesday's statement, the two traditional commercial partners of Iran previously have opposed imposition of the toughest of sanctions.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed his disappointment with Iran for not responding to the proposals. In a veiled warning that Russia could soften its opposition to sanctions, Lavrov said that if Tehran does not agree to return to negotiations "the Security Council will consider steps appropriate to the situation," the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

If Iran agrees to the group's terms for negotiations, it would mean the first high-level face-to-face talks between the United States and Iran after more than a quarter century of estrangement.

The group that met in Paris on Wednesday represents the permanent, veto-holding members of the UN Security Council plus the European participants in previous failed nuclear talks with Iran. Tehran contends its nuclear program is aimed only at producing electricity, but the West fears it is hiding plans to build a bomb.

Expressing "profound disappointment," foreign ministers said, "we have no choice but to return to the United Nations Security Council" and resume a course of possible punishment or coercion that the powers had set aside in hopes of reaching a deal.

The group was pushing for an agreement before world leaders meet this weekend in Russia for the Group of Eight summit of leading industrial democracies. President Bush and other leaders are now expected to issue a strongly worded rebuke to Iran during the G-8 meeting.

Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, the Bush administration's chief negotiator on the Iran issue, said the U.S. is pleased by what it called strong action by the Security Council group.

"This is a significant decision that frankly reflects the disappointment and frustration of our countries over the lack of a serious response."

There was no immediate reaction from Tehran, which has repeatedly said it needs more time to consider proposals presented in early June.

Iran had ruled out responding this week to international incentives to suspend disputed portions of its nuclear program.

"The indications are that Iran's response has been disappointing and incomplete," Rice had reporters aboard her flight here.

Any real move to punish Iran at the Security Council is a long way off, but the group said it will seek an initial resolution requiring Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment. Debate could begin as soon as next week.

If Iran does not comply, the group said it would then seek harsher action. The group's short statement give no specifics, but it cited a section of the world body's charter that could open the door to economic or other sanctions.

The group said it could stop the Security Council actions at any time should Iran cooperate. The U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency has already told Iran it must put uranium enrichment and related disputed activities on hold, and doing so is the condition for opening negotiations on the incentives package presented to Iran last month.

Enrichment can produce fuel for a civilian reactor or fissile material for a bomb.

The European Union offered Iran a similar package of economic and trade incentives last year, but Iran rejected the proposal and ramped up nuclear activities including uranium enrichment that it had suspended during the European talks.

More is on the line now that Iran has moved closer to being able to build a nuclear weapon, and the United States has offered to bargain face-to-face.

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