Rice Urges U.N. to Take 'Strong Steps' on Iran

By Fred Barbash and Colum Lynch
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 12, 2006; 12:45 PM

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, reacting to Iran's latest advance in nuclear technology, said today that the United Nations Security Council must now take "strong steps" to "maintain the credibility of the international community."

At the United Nations, China's ambassador Wang Guangya announced that the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany would meet in the next few days to address the latest development in the ongoing nuclear crisis with Tehran.

Rice's comments followed an announcement from Tehran yesterday that the country had taken a major step forward in its ability to process uranium into fissionable material, an advance necessary to produce nuclear fuel or a nuclear weapon. Iran says it has only peaceful uses in mind, but the United States and its European allies think otherwise.

Only a small proportion of uranium -- roughly 7 atoms out of a thousand -- is fissionable, capable of producing the reaction necessary to produce electric power or a bomb. "Enrichment" is the process of separating out that fissionable proportion into a usable concentrate. The 3.5 percent fissionable concentrate produced by Iran is far below the 90 percent required to make a bomb.

The advance was not a surprise but the defiant announcement, coming amid growing expressions of concern about Iran acquiring nuclear weapons capability and stories about the U.S. considering military options to stop Iran's progress, was considered politically provocative. The U.N. Security Council is considering possible sanctions designed to stop Iran's nuclear activities.

"The world does not believe that Iran should have the capability and technology" that could lead to production of a nuclear weapon, Rice said to reporters at the State Department. The latest announcement, she said, "will further isolate Iran . . . and I do think that the Security Council will need to take into consideration this move by Iran and that it will be time for strong steps to maintain the credibility of the international community."

She stopped short of calling for any immediate action.

Russia and the European Union joined the United States in condemning Iran's assertion, wire services reported, but Moscow said force could not resolve the dispute.

"If such [military] plans exist they will not be able to solve this problem," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, according to Russian news agencies as saying. "On the contrary they could create a dangerous explosive blaze in the Middle East, where there are already enough blazes."

China's Wang said that Iran "is not in line" with demands by the U.N.'s Vienna-based nuclear watchdog agency and the U.N. Security Council to halt its uranium enrichment activities.

But he said that harsh punitive measures -- including the threat of force or sanctions -- "would not be helpful under the current situation." "So we do appeal once again to all parties to exercise restraint, to act constructively and not to take action that might further aggravate the situation," he said.

Russia also opposes U.N. sanctions against Iran.

Wang expressed hope that the IAEA's director general, Mohammed ElBaradei, who is traveling to Iran tonight for talks, can persuade Iran to back down. "I do hope that the Iranians will take note of the reactions and be more cooperative with the IAEA and also with the Security Council." British Foreign Minister Jack Straw, meanwhile, said the announcement was "deeply unhelpful" and undermined confidence, wire services reported. His German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said Iran was "going in precisely the wrong direction" for a return to negotiations.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said it was a worrying step and Iran should stop its "dangerous activities".

The European Union voiced dismay. "This is regrettable," said Emma Udwin, a spokeswoman for Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU commissioner for external relations.

Lynch reported from the United Nations.

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