- The Washington Times - Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Bush administration yesterday urged European and other countries to consider curbing trade and investment in Iran if it does not agree to abandon its pursuit of nuclear weapons.

Washington’s call for punishing Tehran, just weeks before the expected resumption of negotiations between Iran and the European Union, comes nine months after the administration backed an incentives package the European Union offered Iran for good behavior.

Tehran’s lack of cooperation, and especially the attitude of the new government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, are testing the patience of the United States and other countries, U.S. officials said.

“All of us around the world have to think about how we can influence that government,” R. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, said yesterday.

“There is a growing diplomatic coalition to apply curbs, and other countries have trade and other weapons,” Mr. Burns told reporters after delivering a speech at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies.

“There was a time when the United States and a few other countries were a lonely voice,” he said. “That’s no longer the case.”

Washington accuses Tehran of developing a secret nuclear weapons program, but Iran insists it is only for civilian use. It restarted uranium conversion — a step toward enrichment — in August, prompting the European Union to suspend negotiations.

The talks, which are led by Britain, France and Germany, have produced no result so far.

“We have been hearing from Russia and the Europeans there is likely to be a meeting with the Iranians sometime in the first part of January,” Mr. Burns said.

At the same time, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki was quoted as saying yesterday that the negotiations would resume within the next two weeks.

The United States has imposed a series of sanctions on Iran that bar U.S. companies from doing business there, but European and other firms have dealings with Iran.

European countries also have diplomatic relations with Tehran, unlike Washington, which cut ties after the 1979 takeover of the U.S. Embassy in the wake of the Islamic Revolution.

“Through its diplomatic contacts and its trade and investment, the world does have leverage — and that leverage should be used constructively now — to convince the hard-liners in Tehran that there is a price for their misguided policies,” Mr. Burns said in his speech.

Mr. Burns, the State Department’s highest-ranking career diplomat, also indicated that the EU economic and trade incentives are still on the table but expressed doubt that Iran will take advantage of them.

He ruled out restoring diplomatic relations “anytime soon,” and suggested that the Bush administration will not pursue a policy of “regime change” in Iran, as it did in neighboring Iraq.

“That is clearly the job of the Iranian people,” he said.

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