- The Washington Times - Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Iranian leaders yesterday vowed to defy international pressure on the eve of a United Nations deadline demanding that Tehran halt its suspect nuclear programs or face new, harsher sanctions.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear monitoring arm, is expected to announce today that Iran has failed to meet a 60-day deadline set by the U.N. Security Council to suspend enrichment of uranium, a key step in the development of nuclear weapons.

The Bush administration dismissed a new offer from hard-line Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to shut down Iran’s nuclear facilities if the United States and the West do the same.

“Do you believe that’s a serious offer?” said White House press secretary Tony Snow. Added State Department spokesman Tom Casey, “I’m afraid what we’re seeing so far is just more of the same defiance.”

Iran insists that it has the right to pursue a nuclear program for civilian power needs, but the United States and European Union say past Iranian efforts to hide the extent of its program show that Tehran is secretly pursuing nuclear weapons.

The U.N. Security Council in December approved a series of targeted sanctions on Iran’s nuclear research programs. The council held out the prospect of broader sanctions if Iran did not cooperate, but stopped short of threatening military action.

No action is expected today by the Security Council. Mr. Casey said intensive negotiations are already under way among the five permanent members of the Security Council — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — about a new resolution imposing new penalties and restrictions on Iran.

Moscow and Beijing have been reluctant to back the Bush administration’s hard line on Iran and successfully held out against any mention of military action against Tehran in the nuclear dispute. But U.S. officials were encouraged by reports this week that Russia may delay the delivery of fuel for a planned nuclear plant it is building for Iran in the southern city of Bushehr. A spokesman for the Russian atomic energy agency said yesterday the possible delay is because of problems in receiving payment.

“I do think it’s very clear to us that the Russians share our concerns about Iran’s nuclear program,” Mr. Casey said.

The United States has refused to rule out military action against Iran, but President Bush has said repeatedly that he wants to solve the conflict through diplomacy.

Mr. Ahmadinejad told a gathering in northern Iran yesterday that Tehran would halt its uranium enrichment activities, but only if the United States and other nuclear powers did the same.

“If you want to speak from a position of power and make use of the oppressing leverage of some international institutions, you have to know that you will fail against the unity and resistance of the Iranian nation,” he said.

Nevertheless, Mr. Ahmadinejad’s speech was considered unusually conciliatory, avoiding fiery denunciations of the West.

In Vienna, Austria, Iran’s chief nuclear envoy said yesterday his country wants to negotiate over its uranium enrichment program.

Ali Larijani said the impasse over Iran’s nuclear programs “cannot by resolved through force and pressure.”

Mr. Larijani met with IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei ahead of the release of today’s report.

In Turkey, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said talks on the nuclear dispute should try to achieve an agreement allowing “Iran to achieve its rights” while eliminating “concerns” about its nuclear ambitions.

Iran’s call for talks — voiced separately by Mr. Ahmadinejad, Mr. Mottaki and Mr. Larijani — suggested an attempt to convey flexibility on the eve of the deadline.

Duke University political scientist Bruce W. Jentleson, in an analysis for the Century Foundation, said it was “virtually certain” that the United Nations will stop short of a total embargo of Iran, which boasts some of the world’s largest oil and natural gas reserves.

But he said more limited options are on the table, including: tougher restrictions on Iran’s nuclear programs; limits of investment in Iran’s energy sector; a freeze on Iranian assets abroad; a cutoff of military sales; targeted sanctions on top Iranian leaders; and general economic sanctions such as boycotting key Iranian exports, banning international flights and opposing Iran’s World Trade Organization membership.

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