- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 17, 2006

VIENNA, Austria — Pressure on Iran intensified yesterday, with key European countries and the United States moving ahead with plans to refer Tehran to the U.N. Security Council and Israel vowing not to let the Iranians develop nuclear weapons.

But Russia and China — Iran’s past backers — urged negotiations instead of confrontation, casting doubt on whether next month’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) meeting will demonstrate a unified political will.

A meeting Monday in London produced no agreement among the United States, France, Britain, Germany and Moscow and Beijing on whether to refer the dispute over Iranian nuclear enrichment to the Security Council, which could impose sanctions.

Past opposition to such action by Russia and China led the Europeans and the United States to postpone referral.

Russia and China have joined Europe and the United States in criticizing Iran’s resumption of uranium enrichment. But both would prefer to avoid Security Council involvement and are outright opposed to sanctions.

A draft text by Britain proposing referral when the IAEA’s 35-nation board of directors meets Feb. 2 reflected deference to the Russians and Chinese, stopping short of calls for punitive measures.

Instead, the text, partly revealed by a European diplomat, urges the 15-nation council to press Tehran “to extend full and prompt cooperation to the agency” in its investigation of suspect nuclear activities.

The fact that the draft was calling on the council to send Iran’s nuclear file back to the IAEA provided the latest indication the country could escape sanctions.

Moscow supports calling on Iran to renew a moratorium on uranium enrichment, a possible pathway to nuclear arms. But asked yesterday whether Russia would be ready to refer Iran to the Security Council for violating the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said other means should be considered first.

“I don’t think that the potential of the IAEA’s Governing Board has been exhausted and the European troika has the same opinion,” he said, referring to France, Britain and Germany, which represent the European Union in the talks.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry took a cautious tone, saying “all relevant sides should remain restrained and stick to solving the Iranian nuclear issue through negotiations.”

Israel — whose right to exist has been questioned by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad — took a tough stance.

In response to a question about Iran, acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said: “Under no circumstances can Israel allow someone with hostile intentions against us to have control over weapons of mass destruction that can endanger our existence.”

Raising hopes for a compromise, Iran on Monday praised a proposal by Russian President Vladimir Putin to conduct Iranian uranium enrichment in Russia, which would allow for greater international oversight.

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