- The Washington Times - Monday, January 30, 2006

LONDON — The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council agreed early this morning that Iran’s suspect nuclear programs should be reported to the council this week for possible action.

The agreement, reached at 1 a.m. after a four-hour dinner in London of the foreign ministers of the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China, was a victory for the West and particularly the Bush administration, which had pushed for a tough line against Tehran.

“This is a significant step forward,” said a senior State Department official traveling with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. “It means that Iran cannot depend on Russia and China to divide us any longer.”

But in a compromise with Moscow and Beijing aimed at presenting a united front against Iran, the Western countries acquiesced to postponing any Security Council action until a March meeting of the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog agency.

“The ministers agreed that this week’s extraordinary International Atomic Energy Agency [IAEA] board meeting should report to the Security Council its decision on the steps required of Iran,” the British Foreign Office said.

“They agreed that the Security Council should await [IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei’s] report to the March meeting of the IAEA board,” it said, “before deciding to take action to reinforce the authority of the IAEA process.”

The language of the agreement was proposed by Miss Rice and British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who hosted the dinner at his official residence, the senior State Department official said, briefing reporters on background.

The official said he expected that China and Russia, which both have major commercial interests in Iran, to vote with the West rather than abstain at the IAEA meeting in Vienna, Austria, beginning Thursday.

The official, who has been deeply involved in the Iran issue, said that Tehran’s decision earlier this month to break the IAEA seals that prevented further research and development at its nuclear facilities prompted Russia and China to reconsider their stand.

He also said that “reporting” Iran to the Security Council is equivalent to a “referral” — another term that has been used recently. Some diplomats had suggested that reporting was not strong enough, but the official said they probably meant “informing” or “notifying,” language the Russians had proposed.

This morning’s agreement came hours after the European Union rejected Iran’s last-ditch attempt to avoid being sent to the Security Council, made in Brussels by Javad Vaeedi, deputy head of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council.

European officials, who have taken the lead in the nuclear talks, said the Iranian envoy offered nothing new.

“The negotiating process has reached an impasse and the involvement of the Security Council is needed to ensure that the requests … are respected,” said French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy.

The EU, which has been negotiating with Iran for the past two years, also was represented at last night’s dinner.

Miss Rice conceded there are still differences “in tactics and timing” between the United States and its European allies on how to deal with Iran once the matter is before the Security Council.

Speaking at an afternoon press conference with Afghan President Hamid Karzai yesterday, she rejected Iran’s recent interest in a Russian offer to enrich uranium on Russian territory as a ploy to delay IAEA action.

“When the Iranians now advance interest in the Russian proposal, one has to wonder if that isn’t because they now face the prospect of referral to the Security Council,” she said, noting that the Iranians had themselves previously called the Moscow’s offer “inadequate.”

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