- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 19, 2006

VIENNA, Austria — The United States may turn to the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency to exert more pressure on Iran out of frustration with Russian and Chinese opposition to firm Security Council action, diplomats said yesterday.

The diplomats said that the U.S. delegation to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has contacted other nations in the past few days to gauge support for a special IAEA board meeting on Iran’s nuclear program.

The envoys, who were familiar with the discussions but spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to reveal the American initiative, emphasized that no decisions had been made.

Adam Ereli, a State Department spokesman, said the United States was waiting for a report later this month by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei about Iran’s nuclear program.

“We will study that report carefully and decide on next steps at that time,” Mr. Ereli said.

Still, diplomats’ statements that Washington might consider such action were significant.

For weeks, U.S. officials have been publicly in favor of shifting international attention over Iran’s nuclear program from the Vienna-based IAEA — which has no enforcement authority — to the Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions backed by the threat of military force.

Years of U.S. lobbying paid off in February, when the IAEA’s 35-nation board agreed to refer Iran’s nuclear file to the Security Council. But since then, the council’s five veto-holding members have been divided, with Russia and China opposing efforts by the United States, France and Britain to move from requesting Iranian compliance to demanding it.

The split appeared to persist yesterday.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov urged Iran to halt all uranium enrichment after a meeting in Moscow among senior officials of the five permanent council members plus Germany, but he acknowledged the talks produced no decision on how to proceed if Tehran failed to comply.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said in Moscow that sanctions had been discussed but indicated more talks were needed.

“What is new is a greater sense of urgency given what the Iranians did last week,” Mr. Burns said later to reporters, alluding to Iran’s announcement that it had succeeded in enriching uranium.

Echoing a statement Tuesday by President Bush, the American diplomat did not reject the prospect of a military response.

“Obviously, the United States always keeps all options on the table … but we’re focused on diplomacy,” he said.

In Paris, French President Jacques Chirac and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said they opposed military intervention in Iran.

“We have to explore all the possibilities offered by a diplomatic option in order to avoid a destabilization of the Middle East, and probably of the rest of the world,” Mr. Chirac said at a joint press conference.

Military strikes on Iran “would have very grave effects” on the region, Mr. Mubarak said.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Mr. Bush’s closest ally in the invasion of Iraq, told his Parliament that “nobody is talking about military invasion” of Iran, but he also urged the international community to send a strong, unified message to Tehran.

“I do not think it is time to send a message of weakness,” he said.

Mr. Lavrov said no decisions had been expected at Tuesday’s meeting of the five permanent U.N. members plus Germany because the nations were waiting for the IAEA’s report. He said Russia wants the report to be reviewed by the IAEA board before it goes to the Security Council.

Associated Press writer Judith Ingram in Moscow contributed to this report.

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