- The Washington Times - Friday, March 10, 2006

NEW YORK — Russia proposed more talks on Iran’s nuclear program as the five permanent U.N. Security Council powers yesterday considered a statement to pressure Tehran to clear up questions about whether it is trying to build atomic weapons.

The United States was skeptical about the Russian idea, saying it was time for tough action after three years of failed negotiations.

Ambassador John R. Bolton and other senior American officials have suggested that if the Security Council does not take tough action, Washington might look elsewhere to punish Iran — possibly by rallying its allies to impose targeted sanctions.

“We are going to press for as vigorous a response in the council as we can get and hope that that gets the Iranians’ attention,” Mr. Bolton said Thursday. “This is a test for the council. And if the Iranians do not back off from their continued aggressive pursuit of nuclear weapons, we will have to make a decision of what the next step will be.”

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said talks should be held that include Russia, the United States, China, France, Germany, Britain and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice insisted yesterday that the Iran nuclear crisis must now go to the Security Council, rejecting a call for international talks outside the world body.

While saying that more meetings of the main countries involved in the controversy were likely, Miss Rice said: “I think what is ahead of us now is pretty clear and that is the Security Council.”

She spoke on a stopover in San Juan, Puerto Rico, while heading for Chile.

Mr. Lavrov’s call for Germany, which is not a permanent member of the Security Council, and IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei to be included appeared to indicate he meant the talks should take place outside the framework of the U.N.

“It’s an attempt to stop the referral to the Security Council and have more talks,” said Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. “We’ve been talking for three years. At some point, the international community has to decide whether or not the IAEA resolutions and the U.N. Charter mean anything.”

The United States and its allies think Iran is seeking to develop atomic weapons. Tehran denies it, saying its nuclear program is solely for generating electricity.

The five permanent Security Council members, who each wield veto power, were to hold their second closed-door meeting yesterday to discuss a proposed response to the Iranian nuclear crisis. The Americans hoped the statement could be adopted next week.

Diplomats have indicated they will move slowly, focusing initially on a presidential statement that will likely ask Iran to comply with the IAEA’s demands. The U.N. nuclear watchdog triggered council action by sending a Feb. 27 report on Iran’s activities.

Officials in Washington have raised the possibility of a Security Council resolution backed by the threat of military force that would demand Iran abandon uranium enrichment and answer outstanding questions about its nuclear program.

Top EU officials stressed yesterday that a diplomatic solution is still possible, but also appeared to leave open the possibility of sanctions.

“Everything is on the table; everything is open,” EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said.

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