By John Ward Anderson and Daniela Deane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 13, 2006 10:00 AM
PARIS, Jan. 13 -- Iran threatened Friday to block U.N. inspections of its nuclear facilities and end all voluntary cooperation if it is referred to the U.N. Security Council as the long confrontation over Iran's nuclear program escalated.
Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, quoted by the state-run news agency IRNA, said 2 1/2 years of talks over Iran's nuclear issue would then end. He said it is up to France, Britain and Germany to make that decision.
"The Iranian government will have to stop all its voluntary cooperation with the U.N. nuclear watchdog" if the case is referred to the United Nations Security Council, Mottaki said. Mottaki insisted that Iran's "right to access nuclear technology is not associated with the will of any particular country." Last year, Iran's parliament passed a law mandating that cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, be terminated if it was sent to the Security Council.
Iran's latest threats came one day after the foreign ministers of Britain, Germany and France called for Tehran to be referred to the Security Council for violating its nuclear treaty obligations, saying that their long negotiations reached a dead end this week when the Iranians resumed enriching uranium.
The issue came to a head Tuesday when Iran, under the supervision of inspectors from the IAEA, broke the agency's seals on a nuclear plant in Natanz to resume uranium enrichment research. Highly-enriched uranium can be used to produce nuclear bombs.
In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also endorsed a Security Council referral. "There is simply no peaceful rationale for the Iranian regime to resume uranium enrichment," she told reporters Thursday.
But in a new sign of the twists and turns of this lengthy confrontation, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan said that Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, had told him Wednesday in a 40-minute telephone conversation that the Islamic republic was "interested in serious and constructive negotiations," but with a deadline. Annan said he would try to settle the dispute so that it would not reach the council.
U.S. and European officials suggested Larijani was trying to buy time by recycling arguments that failed during negotiations. The Iranians have said repeatedly since the summer that they want successful talks but only if the outcome ensures Iran could go forward with large-scale uranium enrichment.
Foreign Minister Mottaki told the state-run news agency Friday that Iran was prepared to continue talks if the European countries showed a "sensible attitude" toward what he called Iran's "right" to conduct nuclear research. He called for the three European countries to show "forbearance and patience."
In a news conference in Berlin, the three European diplomats said they would ask the board of the IAEA to convene an emergency meeting in Vienna and refer Iran to the Security Council, a major escalation in the world of diplomacy. Top diplomats from the E.U. countries, Russia, China and the United States will meet in London on Monday to discuss the timing of an IAEA meeting, which Western officials said could take place in about two weeks.
The European diplomats said in a joint statement that Iran had spurned all offers from the outside world for better relations in exchange for continuing to refrain from uranium enrichment activities.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that even the United States, which broke off relations with Iran in 1979 after students took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran, had offered significant incentives. The United States agreed last spring to lift its embargo on the shipment of aircraft parts to Iran and to stop blocking its efforts to joint the World Trade Organization in exchange for Iran shelving its nuclear programs.
The E.U. countries agreed to cancel a planned Jan. 18 meeting with Iranian officials because "it no longer makes any sense," said Philippe Douste-Blazy, the French foreign minister.
Despite the tough talk, the ministers left open the possibility of further negotiations. Looking to the Security Council "constitutes a new phase, but not the end of our diplomatic efforts," said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. He and the other ministers were joined at the news conference by the E.U.'s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana.
Rice suggested that if the issue did go to the council, the United States and Europe would not press for immediate sanctions. Rather, the goal would be "to get the answers that the Iranians need to give the IAEA."
The United States and the European Union believe that Iran's nuclear program is secretly aimed at developing such weapons, citing years in which Iran concealed its nuclear activities from international inspectors. Iranian officials deny the charge, saying that all their activities are for the development of peaceful nuclear energy.
The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Iran has ratified, allows it to have a nuclear energy program that includes uranium enrichment. Tehran holds that Western powers, particularly the United States, are practicing "nuclear apartheid" to keep less developed countries from advancing.
Russia, which is helping Iran build a $1 billion nuclear reactor, attempted to broker a compromise, offering to enrich the uranium on its territory.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told Ekho Moskvy radio Thursday that Iran's latest moves "cause concern that Iran is opting out of its moratorium in the absence of answers to questions, serious questions," from the IAEA, according to the Associated Press.
The Washington Post reported Thursday that Lavrov told Rice this week that Russia would not oppose a motion at the IAEA to refer Iran to the Security Council.
U.S. and European diplomats have asserted for months that they had the votes in the agency's 35-member board to send Iran to the Security Council. But they have not done so because of opposition from Russia and China, which hold vetoes on the council. In September, the board voted 22 to 1 to find that Iran had violated its nuclear treaty obligations, with 12 countries, including Russia and China, abstaining.
Deane reported from Washington. Staff writer Glenn Kessler in Washington and staff writers Colum Lynch and Dafna Linzer in New York contributed to this report.