World leaders to meet on Iran's failure to halt nuclear program

By William Branigin and Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 19, 2009; 2:51 PM

Iran lashed out Thursday against a new warning from President Obama of tougher sanctions over its nuclear program, dismissing such measures as out of date and threatening a resolute response to U.S. "deception and mischief."

The verbal clash came as the United States and five other world powers prepared to meet in Brussels on Friday to discuss what steps could be taken against Tehran for its refusal so far to accept a deal aimed a resolving a long-running dispute over its uranium enrichment program. Attending the meeting are representatives from the other four permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- Russia, China, Britain and France -- plus Germany, news agencies reported.

In a meeting with the negotiating group, known as the P5-plus-one, in Geneva on Oct. 1, Iran tentatively agreed to a deal under which it would send the bulk of its stockpile of low-enriched uranium to Russia and France for processing into medium-enriched uranium, which would be returned to Iran in a form that could be used to power a research reactor in Tehran that produces medical isotopes. The aim was to allay Western concerns by effectively stalling Iran's ability to produce enough highly enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon, while meeting Iran's need to make isotopes for the treatment of cancer and other medical purposes.

Since then, however, hard-liners in Tehran have apparently stymied the deal, and Iran has raised various alternatives that the West considers unacceptable. Earlier this month, Iran demanded full delivery of reactor fuel before it would give up its low-enriched uranium and balked at further efforts to hold international talks on its nuclear program.

On Wednesday, Tehran announced that it would not send its uranium abroad for processing but wanted any swap to take place within Iran.

Iran came under international pressure after the disclosure in September that it was building a secret uranium-enrichment facility at an underground site near the Shiite Muslim holy city of Qom, in addition to a known enrichment plant at Natanz. A team of U.N. nuclear experts from the International Atomic Energy Agency inspected the new site last month and came away with questions about whether other secret installations exist in the country, according to a confidential report made public Monday.

In a news conference in Seoul on Thursday as he was wrapping up an eight-day visit to Asia, Obama expressed frustration with Iran's response to the uranium-swap proposal, to which the other parties to the deal -- the United States, Russia and France -- have already agreed.

"Iran has taken weeks now and has not shown its willingness to say 'yes' to this proposal," Obama said in a joint appearance with the South Korean president. "We have seen on occasions that whether it's for internal political reasons or they are stuck in some of their own rhetoric, they are unable to get to 'yes.' "

As a result, Obama said, "we have begun discussions with our international partners about the importance of having consequences." When Iran "fails to take advantage of these opportunities," he cautioned, "it is not making itself more secure; it is making itself less secure."

Obama added: "Our expectation is that over the next several weeks, we will be developing a package of potential steps that we could take that will indicate our seriousness to Iran. . . . I continue to hold out the prospect that they may decide to walk through this door. I hope they do. But what I am pleased about is the extraordinary international unity that we have seen."

In an apparent response to Obama in a speech in Tabriz, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insisted that Iran "is not pursuing aggression, does not have ill intentions and only wants to obtain . . . its bright future and its legal right" to a peaceful nuclear power program.

"Those who claim that they want to have constructive interaction must know that if a clear, fundamental and correct change is observed, and the Iranian nation sees that they have truly changed their attitude, have given up their aggressive and arrogant behavior, are respecting the right and dignity of the Iranian nation, and by returning the right and wealth of the nation they have honestly stretched a hand of friendship toward Iran, we will accept it," Ahmadinejad said.

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