By Thomas Erdbrink
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, April 21, 2010; A11
TEHRAN -- Facing increasing momentum behind a U.S.-backed bid for new sanctions against it, Iran is launching a broad diplomatic offensive aimed at persuading as many U.N. Security Council members as possible to oppose tougher punishment for its nuclear program.
Iran wants to focus on reviving stalled talks about a nuclear fuel swap to build trust on all sides, according to politicians and diplomats in Tehran. But leaders of Western nations say that unless Iran alters its conditions for the deal, they will refuse to discuss it again. Under the arrangement, aimed at breaking an impasse over Iran's uranium-enrichment efforts, Tehran would exchange the bulk of its low-enriched uranium for more highly enriched fuel for a research reactor that produces medical isotopes.
As Iranian diplomats fly around the world to discuss the swap, they are lobbying some of the Security Council's rotating members to vote against a fourth round of sanctions proposed by the United States, officials said.
The Obama administration is seeking unanimous support for further Security Council sanctions against Iran. Three previous rounds of sanctions were accepted by all members, except in 2008, when Indonesia abstained. This time, Iran is actively working to get more Security Council members to oppose the U.S. initiative.
"In the coming 10 days, the Islamic republic's delegations will travel to the capitals of Russia, China, Lebanon and Uganda to pursue talks," Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said. "Other countries will be visited in the near future." He said that "nuclear issues" will be on the agenda.
Iran also plans to try to rally support during an international conference to review the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In Tehran's view, the gathering, scheduled for May in New York, is shaping up as a confrontation between nuclear powers and developing nations.
Iran's official stance is that the U.N. sanctions are not effective. But unofficially, any vote against a new sanctions resolution would be welcomed as a great diplomatic victory.
"The groups we are sending out will be focusing on the correct implementation of the NPT, the disarmament trend and fuel-swap issues," said Kazem Jalali, a member of the Iranian parliament's national security and foreign policy committee. "Naturally, our explanations during the trips will have a positive effect against the efforts by the United States in trying to impose new sanctions."
To start its diplomatic offensive, Iran held a nuclear disarmament conference last weekend that several Security Council members attended. The meeting, with its motto of "nuclear energy for all, nuclear weapons for none," focused on what Iran and other developing nations call "double standards" and "discriminatory elements" in the Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Participants in the Tehran conference shared complaints that world powers are using proliferation fears as a reason to prevent developing nations from establishing independent nuclear energy programs.
Iran's diplomatic effort seems especially aimed at developing nations such as Brazil, Nigeria and Turkey, which hold rotating seats on the 15-member Security Council. Iran is also betting that council members Lebanon -- which has a government that includes members of Iran-backed Hezbollah -- and Uganda might vote against new sanctions or abstain.
As a part of the campaign, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad will begin a two-day state visit Friday to Uganda, where he is expected to promise help in building an oil refinery.
Brazil and Turkey already have said they are wary of imposing additional punishment on Tehran. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, visiting Iran on Tuesday, announced that his country is ready to mediate on the uranium swap proposal and other nuclear issues.
The U.N.-backed arrangement, proposed in October, was the subject of promising initial negotiations. But it was soon shelved after Iran repeatedly changed its conditions, saying the exchange should take place on Iranian soil and demanding more Western security guarantees.
With Western nations insisting that the swap occur outside Iran, Turkey offered last year to act as a neutral location for the exchange, but Tehran was not interested, diplomats said.
Asked Tuesday about the proposal, Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters, "The venue of any fuel swap will be in Iran."
Special correspondent Kay Armin Serjoie contributed to this report.