- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 6, 2006

Iran has until the end of April to abandon its nuclear-weapons program and comply with international atomic energy agreements or face increased international sanctions, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations said yesterday.

The U.N. Security Council’s ability to come together and bring pressure on Tehran would reflect whether the international forum would play a major role in protecting the United States and its allies, Ambassador John R. Bolton told reporters at a State Department Correspondents Association breakfast meeting yesterday.

“Iran is a good test case,” he said.

If Iran refused to conform to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) regulations, Mr. Bolton said, the likely next step would be a U.N. resolution that would be legally binding on Iran, followed by a resolution that would consider sanctions.

Mr. Bolton described the U.S. approach as “calibrated, gradual and reversible,” but warned that if the U.N. council failed to deal effectively with Iran, Washington would have to look at alternatives.

“We are pursuing a variety of options outside the Security Council right now,” he said, echoing statements he made to The Washington Times in November. “It is simply prudent planning to be looking at other options,” he said yesterday.

Mr. Bolton said the United States could tighten sanctions against Iran that were eased under the Clinton administration, allowing for the import of Persian rugs and pistachio nuts.

Additional steps could include sanctions such as those Washington has taken against North Korea, and “looking at the illicit financial transactions by the Iranian government,” he said. The United States would work with other countries on sanctions on the Iranian leadership’s “financial transactions, their travel opportunities and the economic relations these countries themselves have with Iran,” he said.

A U.N. Security Council presidential statement issued March 29 urged Iran to suspend all activities related to nuclear enrichment and reprocessing, to be verified by the IAEA in a report due in 30 days — or by April 28. Follow-up resolutions could require Tehran to comply.

Iran has insisted that its nuclear program is peaceful and not weapons-based. The United States and the European Union dispute that.

IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said yesterday that several issues in Iran remained outstanding.

“The picture is not very clear; the picture is hazy,” he told reporters in Madrid after a meeting of U.N. agency chiefs, the Reuters news agency reported. The IAEA has led inspections of Iran’s nuclear program for three years.

“We have seen issues that we need to understand before we can say we are satisfied that all activities in Iran are exclusively for peaceful purposes,” said Mr. ElBaradei. He added that there was still time to negotiate and resolve the issue through diplomatic means, Reuters reported.

The council and its five permanent members — the United States, Britain, China, Russia and France — face considerable wrangling over how to proceed with Iran. Although not legally binding, the presidential statement alone took three weeks and three drafts before an agreement was reached.

China has said it would veto a move to impose sanctions on Iran. Russia, which helped build Iran’s Bushehr nuclear plant and is keen on winning other profitable contracts, stands to lose a lot of hard currency earnings if sanctions are imposed. Mr. Bolton said Moscow was concerned that if it withdrew from Iran, its business there could be replaced by a Western European country.

“There have been any number of conversations between Bush and [Russian President Vladimir] Putin on this, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are further conversations,” he said.

China’s ambassador to the United Nations on Tuesday told reporters that diplomacy would work better forcing Iran to comply. The threat of sanctions, said Wang Guangya, “would prove to be more counterproductive than productive.”

The Middle East “has so many problems already we won’t need to escalate the situation for the worse,” Mr. Wang said. “I think that they have to realize the political situations in the world and also to consider that noncooperation will lead to undesirable results.”

Betsy Pisik in New York contributed to this article.

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