U.S., European Allies at Odds on Terms of Iran Resolution

By Colum Lynch and Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, October 26, 2006

UNITED NATIONS, Oct. 25 -- The United States and its European allies split Wednesday over the terms of a U.N. resolution calling for a ban on Iranian trade in ballistic missiles and nuclear materials, according to Security Council diplomats.

The Bush administration supports the Europeans' broad aims of sanctioning Tehran for refusing to halt nuclear activities. But the White House declined to endorse a European-backed draft resolution, fearing it would be too weak to constrain Iran from developing nuclear weapons, U.S. and European diplomats said.

On Wednesday, France, Britain and Germany presented Russia and China with the text of a resolution that requires states to "prevent the supply, sale or transfer" of Iran's nuclear and ballistic programs and would halt Tehran's ability to secure financing and technical assistance for them. The resolution would also ban travel and freeze the assets of individuals associated with the weapons programs, said a council diplomat who has seen the draft.

But it exempts Russia from the trade embargo, allowing it to continue a previously approved nuclear energy agreement to support the construction of Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant.

The Europeans rejected a series of U.S. amendments that would have imposed greater restrictions on Russia's nuclear trade with Iran and that characterized Iran's nuclear activities as a threat to international peace and security. They said the U.S. proposals may have provoked a Russian veto. The Europeans also have far stronger trade relations with Iran than does the United States and have been reluctant to approve tougher sanctions.

European negotiators, however, did agree to include a proposal by U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton to invoke a provision known as Article 41, which obliges states to enforce U.N. sanctions. They have given China and Russia two days to respond to the resolution before presenting it to all 15 members of the Security Council.

"We're going to be meeting with the Russians and the Chinese tomorrow to get their reaction," Bolton said. "The Europeans gave them two days in both Moscow and Beijing, which we hope will be sufficient time so that we can make progress rapidly."

European negotiators thought they had secured U.S. backing for the proposal to exempt Russia from the trade ban at a meeting of political directors in late September.

But the deal failed to secure the full backing of the Bush administration because of concerns that Iran could use the Bushehr exemption as a cover for importing other prohibited goods.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this week backed a proposal by Bolton to present the Europeans with tougher language. When the Europeans refused, Bolton said the United States would not co-sponsor their resolution.

Iran says its nuclear energy program is designed to meet the country's growing energy needs, not to produce nuclear weapons. The United States alleges the effort is a front for a weapons program.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, maintains that it has not found proof that Iran is developing nuclear weapons. But it charges that Iran's efforts to develop its nuclear program in secrecy over the past 18 years have helped fueled international suspicions.

The United Nations and key European governments have been pressing Tehran, without success, for about three years to provide the world with verifiable assurances that its program is peaceful.

In August, the Security Council threatened to consider sanctions against Iran if it did not suspend its enrichment of uranium and consider a package of U.S.-backed European incentives.

Iran maintains that it prepared to hold talks with the council's five major powers -- the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain -- as well as Germany over the fate of its nuclear program. But it has refused to first halt its nuclear activities, insisting that it has the authority, under the 1970 Non-Proliferation Treaty, to develop nuclear energy.

Earlier this week, the head of the U.N. atomic energy agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, told The Washington Post that Iran continues to advance its nuclear enrichment activities, and that Iranian technicians are on the verge of using a new cascade of 164 centrifuges to enrich uranium.

Kessler reported from Washington.

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