- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 30, 2006

BRUSSELS (Reuters) — The United States and the European Union struck different notes yesterday on how to respond to Iran’s nuclear defiance while insisting they were in full agreement.

Speaking at a conference, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said no one was considering military action over Tehran’s refusal to halt uranium enrichment, and Europe did not want to join a “coalition of the willing” against Iran.

U.S. Sen. John McCain, Arizona Republican, told the Brussels Forum in a speech on Friday night: “There is only one thing worse than military action, and that is a nuclear-armed Iran.”

He said the United States would not stand by and let Iran wipe out Israel, as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinjenad had advocated.

The Islamic republic, a major oil and gas supplier, denied it intends to build a bomb and said its nuclear program is purely for civilian energy purposes. International inspectors, however, have discovered bomb-making equipment and plans following the disclosure of a covert nuclear program.

Former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard C. Holbrooke, a prominent Democratic foreign policy specialist, said the response to Iran’s nuclear program was a defining issue for trans-Atlantic relations.

“Iran is the test case about whether we’ll have effective trans-Atlantic cooperation,” Mr. Holbrooke said.

The more divisions in the West and with China and Russia over Iran, the more likely that the United States would face the terrible choice painted by Mr. McCain, he said.

However, Mr. Solana, who has been involved in efforts by the EU’s three main powers, Britain, France and Germany, to negotiate a solution with Tehran, said he did not think there were differences between the United States and Europe on Iran. NATO and EU foreign ministers, including U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, had debated the issue at a meeting in Sofia, Bulgaria, on Thursday, and “nobody at that point in time considered the possibility of a military solution in Iran.”

Mr. Solana also said he did not think anyone was seeking a “coalition of the willing” to act against Iran, and no European country wanted such a coalition.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Fried said the next step was a strong U.N. Security Council resolution.

“I cannot predict how things will come out, but that is where we are headed, united with Europe,” he told reporters.

Asked why he was unwilling to talk of military action, unlike Mr. McCain and Mr. Holbrooke, Mr. Solana said that he held political office and did not have the same freedom of speech.

The most important process was to work with Russia and China to build the broadest possible consensus on a United Nations resolution raising pressure on Tehran to comply with international demands to halt uranium enrichment.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog delivered a report on Friday saying Iran had done little or nothing to prove it was not developing nuclear arms. It had hampered checks by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and rebuffed requests to stop making nuclear fuel, said the report by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei.

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