Envoys Remain Split On Plan Against Iran

By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, April 20, 2006

MOSCOW, April 19 -- Senior diplomats from the U.N. Security Council's five permanent members ended two days of talks about Iran's nuclear program Wednesday with consensus for action against the Islamic state, but they continued to be divided as to what form it should take, U.S. Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns said.

"Nearly every country is considering some form of sanctions, and this is a new development," Burns told reporters after the meeting. "Every country said that some type of action had to be taken . . . to, in effect, erect a barrier to Iran's progress. So the challenge for us will be what can we all agree on."

For weeks, the United States, Britain and France have been pressing for tough steps against Iran, while Russia and China have argued that a hard line might backfire. All have expressed public concern over Iran's program.

"All participants in the meeting agreed that urgent and constructive steps are demanded of Iran," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Wednesday.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said last week that Iran was pursuing the enrichment of uranium on an industrial scale, which could allow it to accelerate the development of nuclear weapons.

That and recent statements by other Iranian officials that they would expand their experimental nuclear work has led to "a greater sense of urgency" among the major powers about Iran's ambitions, Burns said. "What I heard in the room last night was not agreement on the specifics but to the general notion that Iran has to feel isolation and that there is a cost to what they are doing," he said.

In late March, the U.N. Security Council gave Iran a month to stop enrichment and answer questions from the U.N. nuclear watchdog group, the International Atomic Energy Agency. Iran says that its program is peaceful and only for the generation of electricity.

The United States has asked the Security Council to invoke Chapter 7 of the U.N. charter, which allows the world body to decide on measures, including the use of force, "to maintain or restore international peace and security."

Russia spoke against the use of Chapter 7 at the meetings, fearing it would almost certainly lead to military action, according to a source familiar with the discussions who spoke on condition of anonymity.

But Russia said it would be willing to discuss other punitive options after the IAEA issues a report on Iran's response to the Security Council statement, the source said. "We are convinced of the need to wait for the IAEA report due at the end of the month," Lavrov told reporters.

The source also said that Chinese Deputy Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai, who attended the session, was critical of Iran and had delivered a "tough message" privately to the Iranians during a stopover in Tehran before the Moscow meeting.

The diplomats discussed the pros and cons of a number of options in detail, Burns said. The United Nations, for instance, could decide to impose sanctions without invoking Chapter 7, and individual countries could also impose sanctions. The United States has had sanctions against Iran for more than 25 years.

Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, said last week that the E.U. was considering targeted sanctions, but he added that "any military action is absolutely [off] the table for us."

An Iranian delegation arrived in Moscow on Wednesday for talks with Russian officials and, separately, with diplomats from Britain, France and Germany.

At a news conference on Wednesday, Burns also said that Washington wanted to include the former Soviet republics of Belarus, Georgia and Moldova on the agenda when leaders of the Group of Eight industrial countries meet in Russia later this year.

The United States is at odds with Russian policy toward the countries, which Moscow considers to be part of its natural sphere of influence.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company