- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 18, 2003

BRUSSELS — Secretary of State Colin L. Powell yesterday raised doubts that the Bush administration will be able to overcome European resistance to a harsh international condemnation of Iran’s suspected nuclear programs.

Emerging from a working lunch with European Union officials and foreign ministers of NATO’s 25 current and prospective members, Mr. Powell made clear there remain wide differences across the Atlantic on Iran.

The United States, which insists Iran has been secretly pursuing nuclear weapons for more than a decade, has pressed for a tough resolution when the 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, meets tomorrow.

A decision by the IAEA board to refer the issue to the U.N. Security Council — a move sought by the United States — would raise the possibility of sanctions against Tehran.

But with leading EU powers pursuing a more conciliatory tack, “whether or not a resolution enjoys the full support of the IAEA board remains to be seen,” Mr. Powell said yesterday.

He told reporters later, on a plane en route to Britain, that a European-backed resolution was inadequate because it lacked “trigger mechanisms in the case of further Iranian intransigence or difficulty.”

Iran, one of the world’s largest oil exporters, has extensive commercial ties to Europe, while the United States maintains a near-total ban on bilateral commerce.

The European Union is by far Iran’s biggest trade partner, accounting for 28 percent of Iran’s exports and imports in 2001, more than twice as much as second-place Japan, a major buyer of Iranian oil.

Mr. Powell said Iran will be “the subject of intensive discussions over the next few days in Vienna.”

Britain, France, and Germany have sponsored a draft resolution critical of Iran’s nuclear programs, but one that falls far short of Washington’s demands.

Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief, has said he does not expect the IAEA board to refer the Iranian question to the Security Council.

Many European diplomats here dread the prospect of a rerun of the rift over Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs, which divided members of the IAEA earlier this year.

Mr. Solana said yesterday he thought the European resolution was “very compatible” with the U.S. aim of preventing Iran from taking critical steps toward a nuclear bomb, but gave no indication he would back the tougher U.S. stance.

Diplomats in Vienna, Austria, where the IAEA is headquartered, say the still-secret European draft resolution does not say that Iran is in breach of international nonproliferation accords and makes no provision to refer the question to the Security Council.

Iran, which denies pursuing a military nuclear program, yesterday urged the United States in a statement to “abandon such useless pressures and stop imposing its ideas on the agency.”

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