- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 14, 2006

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday warned President Bush not to “escalate” tensions over Iran’s nuclear ambitions because the world wants to “find a way out of this crisis.”

“We need to be able to resolve it, and I hope there will be no steps taken to escalate this approach,” Mr. Annan told the president at the end of a meeting in the Oval Office.

Mr. Bush did not publicly mention Iran, although he discussed the topic with Mr. Annan before reporters were ushered in at the conclusion of the meeting.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan later railed against Iran without escalating the administration’s rhetoric.

“Iran has shown that they can’t be trusted with nuclear technology because they have hidden their activities for some two decades,” he said. “They failed to comply with their international obligations.”

The meeting came as Iran announced that it was postponing a planned resumption of negotiations with Russia and also would restart its uranium enrichment.

The Moscow talks, which had been designed to assuage world concerns about the Islamic republic’s intentions by having Russia enrich uranium for Tehran, had been scheduled to resume Thursday.

“We support the proposal that was offered by Russia,” Mr. McClellan said. “But what you see coming from the regime is continued defiance of the world, a continued disregard for their international obligations and a continued thumbing of their nose to what the world has demanded.”

Mr. Annan later told CNN that no one wants to see a “military escalation in the region. And Iran should cooperate and cooperate fully. And I have urged them publicly to freeze the nuclear program.”

The remarks came on the same day that the London Daily Telegraph reported that the Pentagon was stepping up contingency planning for a military assault on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Mr. Bush has repeatedly refused to rule out a military option, although he emphasizes that diplomacy should be given a chance to work.

But in an interview with USA Today, published yesterday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeated his defiance at the threat of international sanctions.

“I believe those who want to impose limitations on us will lose more than us,” he said. “The people of Iran have stood on their own two feet throughout history and, despite the bad intentions of their adversaries, have been able to move forward.”

Iran announced yesterday on its state-run television that it has begun uranium enrichment. Alaeddin Boroujerdi, head of the Iranian parliament’s foreign relations committee, said inspectors from the Vienna, Austria-based International Atomic Energy Agency were present.

Two diplomats in Europe told the Associated Press on the condition of anonymity that uranium-enrichment activities had begun, with one specifying that it occurred at the Natanz plant in central Iran.

“Uranium gas has been fed into three machines,” said the other diplomat, based in Vienna.

Iran issued another nuclear threat yesterday, saying it would withdraw from the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty if other nations take action against its enrichment activities.

“There is no reason to continue our current nuclear policy while we are deprived of the positive aspects of the treaty,” an Ahmadinejad spokesman said in Tehran.

On CNN, Mr. Annan said the treaty says, “Iran can develop peaceful … uses of nuclear energy but not nuclear bombs, and this is what the whole debate is about.”

On other issues yesterday, Mr. Bush and Mr. Annan said they agreed on steps to improve the international peacekeeping force in the Darfur region of western Sudan, although the issue of sending U.S. troops remained up in the air.

“Of course this is an issue where all governments have to play their role,” said Mr. Annan, who wants to replace an African Union force.

Mr. Bush “did agree that we need to get the right type of force on the ground, and he’s prepared to work with other countries and with me to make sure that we have the troops on the ground,” the U.N. chief said.

For his part, Mr. Bush promised to continue seeking reforms of the U.N. Human Rights Commission, many of whose current and recent members, such as Sudan, are regular human rights violators.

The panel also plans a report demanding that the Guantanamo Bay prison, which holds detainees in the war on terror, be closed — a report U.S. officials already have criticized as “baseless assertion” by uninformed “investigators.”

“We talked about U.N. reform, structural reform, management reform, as well as the reform of the Human Rights Commission,” Mr. Bush said. “I was most interested in the secretary-general’s thoughts. I appreciate very much his leading on these issues, and we’ll continue to work closely.”

Mr. Annan said he agreed that reforms of the human rights panel “should be done as soon as possible.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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