U.S. cites united front on Iran

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The United States is confident that Russia and China will join it in pushing for U.N. sanctions against Iran if it does not agree to suspend enriching uranium this week, a senior U.S. official said yesterday.

R. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, also said the U.N. Security Council will insist on a clear answer to its demand that Iran suspend its enrichment activity. A “maybe” will be considered a “no,” he said.

“For four months now, we’ve been waiting for an answer,” Mr. Burns told editors and reporters at a luncheon at The Washington Times. “We’ve said, if they don’t suspend enrichment, we’ll take them to the Security Council and sanction them. We do believe we have Russian and Chinese support for that.”

The five permanent council members — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — along with Germany on June 1 offered Iran a package of economic and political incentives if it suspends enrichment and asked for an answer by the end of July.

When there was no answer, the council passed a resolution threatening sanctions under Article 41 of Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter and gave Tehran another deadline, Aug. 31. But Iran began negotiating “seriously” with the Europeans only in mid-September, Mr. Burns said, and the Bush administration decided to wait a little longer.

At a dinner in New York on Sept. 18, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her five counterparts agreed that the first week of October would be the absolute deadline for Iran “to say yes or no,” Mr. Burns said.

“She agreed with the Russians, Chinese and Europeans,” he said of Miss Rice, “that, if Iran said no, we would all go to sanctions together at the Security Council.”

He said a scheduled meeting this week between Javier Solana, the European Union’s foreign policy chief, and Ali Larijani, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, should bring “clarity.”

“If [Iran’s answer] is maybe, it’s a no,” Mr. Burns said. “If it’s ‘We’d like to negotiate this further,’ it has been negotiated for four months. At some point, you have to draw the line. So I think you’ll have the answer by the end of the week.”

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad repeatedly has rejected the calls for suspending enrichment but denies that his country is pursuing a nuclear weapon.

Mr. Burns rejected a suggestion by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, made in an interview with The Times last week, that Iran be offered a deal similar to the one Kazakhstan made when it gave up its nuclear arsenal in the 1990s. The country received a U.S. promise at that time that it would not be invaded.

But Mr. Burns said the Bush administration has refused to offer security guarantees to Iran because of other concerns, most recently its support for the terrorist group Hezbollah during its war with Israel in southern Lebanon.

“We saw the war this summer not to be just a border war,” he said. “We saw this as a new element in the Middle East — the Iranian and Syrian involvement.

“We are also very concerned about this nexus of terrorism — Iran, Syria, Hezbollah, Hamas, [Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.] We think they are coordinating their actions, and we are trying to push back on that.”

Mr. Burns said the Iranian issue would be Miss Rice’s primary concern when she meets today in Cairo with the foreign ministers of Egypt, Jordan and the six members of the Gulf Cooperation Council.

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