U.S. May Pursue Iran Sanctions Even if Russia Balks

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 1, 2006

DEAD SEA, Jordan, Nov. 30 -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice signaled Thursday that the United States is willing to risk a breach with Russia if the Russians do not soon sign on to a U.N. Security Council resolution to punish Iran for its nuclear activities.

"I am all for maintaining unity, but I am also in favor of action," Rice told reporters traveling with her as she devoted much of her day to other Middle East crises: trying to nurture a fledgling truce between Israel and the Palestinians, and attending talks in Amman, Jordan, between President Bush and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki.

Six months ago, the United States said it would join European-led talks on Iran's nuclear programs if Iran agreed to halt uranium enrichment. Officials said at the time that they would give Iran "weeks, not months" to comply. But since Iran rejected the offer, the administration has engaged in difficult negotiations with Russia over the terms of a U.N. resolution to impose sanctions.

Until now, a key administration goal has been to keep the five nations on the Security Council that hold veto power, plus Germany, unified on the Iran issue. But Rice's remarks suggested that the administration's patience is waning and that officials could soon offer a resolution, daring Russia to veto it. Officials say they believe Russia would abstain instead, allowing passage of a resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter.

Russia has strong business ties with Iran and is building a nuclear reactor in Bushehr, which it has sought to shield from the sanctions resolution.

"Obviously, we'd like to keep the unity of the P5-plus-one," Rice said, referring to the five permanent Security Council members and Germany, "but unity is not an end in itself. The goal is to get a resolution that makes sense in terms of convincing the Iranians that their behavior is not acceptable in the international community. We have to do something."

Rice, who is at this Jordanian resort to attend a conference on Arab democracy, devoted much of her day to trying to revive long-stalled peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. Palestinian factions and Israel agreed this past weekend to a tenuous cease-fire in the Gaza Strip, and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert offered to release some Palestinian prisoners, reduce controls on the movement of people and goods in Gaza and the West Bank, and restart negotiations to create a Palestinian state.

Rice met first with the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas, in the West Bank city of Jericho before traveling to Jerusalem, where she met with Olmert and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

In Jericho, Abbas announced that months of talks to establish a unity government had "unfortunately reached a dead end." The victory by the Islamic Resistance Movement, or Hamas, in legislative elections in January resulted in a cutoff of international aid, so Abbas, who heads the rival Fatah party, said the failure of the talks "is very painful for us because we know how badly the people have been suffering over the last nine months. All options are open, with the exception of civil war, which we will never accept."

Saeb Erekat, chief Palestinian negotiator and a Fatah legislator, said Abbas sought Rice's help on several issues. He asked her to work with Egyptian officials to support a so-far elusive exchange of hundreds of Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails for Israeli army Cpl. Gilad Shalit, who has been held by Palestinian gunmen since late June.

Abbas also urged Rice to press Israeli officials to adhere to the terms of an agreement she helped broker last year governing the operation of the crossings between Israel and Gaza, Erekat said. Citing security concerns, Israel has kept the key cargo passages closed for much of the year.

Correspondent Scott Wilson in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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