Monday, March 06, 2006

Washington Splits Over Best Policy To Halt Iran's Nuclear Plan

Visiting MPs were astonished by a lack of consensus on the eve of the crucial nuclear meeting
By Tom Baldwin
London Times
March 6, 2006

THE US Administration is riven by divisions over how it should tackle Iran’s defiance of the international community with its nuclear programme, according to British MPs returning from a fact-finding mission to Washington.

They expressed astonishment that widely differing policies — ranging from military action to diplomatic soft-pedalling — were still being debated even as the International Atomic Energy Agency board prepared for its vital meeting in Vienna today.

Iran yesterday raised the stakes by vowing that it would resume large-scale uranium enrichment if the meeting referred the Islamic republic to the UN Security Council.

Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, who will today hold talks in Washington with Sergei Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, is advocating a cautious approach.

“Nobody has said that we have to rush immediately to sanctions of some kind,” she said at the weekend.

“I think the Security Council will have to have a serious discussion about what the next steps will be.”

Members of the Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee returning from Washington were, however, confused and disorientated about the direction of US policy towards Iran. They had held talks with John Bolton, the US Ambassador to the UN, who is a hawk on the issue. He told the MPs that he wanted a “Chapter 7 resolution” under which the UN would authorise military action, such as air strikes, against Iran.

Mr Bolton was quoted as saying: “They must know everything is on the table and they must understand what that means. We can hit different points along the line. You only have to take out one part of their nuclear operation to take the whole thing down.”

Mike Gapes, the committee chairman, said that this was one of “at least three views” they had heard on Iran from within the Administration.

Another option, which he ascribed to the Pentagon, where they had talks with Peter Rodman, the Assistant Defence Secretary, and Brigadier-General Carter Hamm, formerly the US commander in northern Iraq, was to throw the issue “into the Security Council like a hand grenade and see what happens”.

However, Mr Gapes said that both the CIA and Richard Lugar, the Republican chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, believed that the US should “ride it out” rather than engage in “posturing”, because of a lack of clarity as to what the Security Council would agree. Going to the UN could lead to a rerun of the attempts to get agreement on Iraq before the war.

Ali Larijani, Tehran’s chief negotiator, raised the stakes, saying that Iran had a “God- given right” to a nuclear programme. He even said that oil production might be used as a weapon if the crisis deepened.

Iran has already resumed enrichment on a small scale at its Natanz research facility, testing 20 centrifuges, according to the IAEA. Thousands of centrifuges are required to produce enough enriched uranium for a weapons programme.

The Islamic republic, which has the fourth-largest reserves of oil in the world, insists that it needs the nuclear programme for the production of electricity. The West fears that the Tehran Government, which has recently threatened to wipe Israel off the map, is trying to build nuclear weapons.

In the US, hawks such as Mr Bolton have been largely marginalised by the growing foreign policy ascendancy of Dr Rice as well as by the continued carnage in Iraq, which has damaged America’s military and political capacity to take action.

The US has, instead, pinned its hopes on the EU3 — Britain, France and Germany — securing a diplomatic solution. Last-ditch negotiations over a compromise proposal, under which uranium would be enriched for Iran by Russia, broke up without agreement on Friday.

The IAEA board today is widely expected to set Iran a new 30-day deadline by which it must halt the nuclear programme and comply with international inspectors — or face being referred to the Security Council for further action.

Both the US and the EU3 are thought to favour sanctions targeted on Iran’s nuclear programme and the clerical elite behind the regime.

This could include a ban on its 100 top leaders travelling outside Iran, as well as freezing their bank accounts.

But Dr Rice’s meeting today with her Russian counterpart could be crucial in determining how the international community will proceed.

Russia and China, both of which are permanent members of the UN Security Council, are reluctant to authorise even limited sanctions.

In Tehran, Mr Larijani said that Iran still wanted to negotiate but added: “We will definitely resume our enrichment if Iran is referred to the Security Council.”

Time magazine reported that the US will show to the Security Council diagrams from a computer, stolen from an Iranian nuclear engineer and obtained by the CIA in 2004, that are believed to depict an atomic bomb.

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