Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Iran warns US of "harm and pain"

Yahoo News:

By Mark Heinrich and Parisa Hafezi

Wed Mar 8, 7:51 PM ET

Iran warned the United States on Wednesday it could inflict "harm and pain" to match whatever punishment Washington persuades the U.N. Security Council to mete out over concerns Tehran is secretly seeking atomic bombs.

"So if the United States wishes to choose that path, let the ball roll," Tehran national security official Javad Vaeedi said.

Iran and the United States, arch-foes since Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, clashed at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's governing board called to consider an IAEA report that says Iran is accelerating nuclear research.

After 2-1/2 years of U.S. pressure on the IAEA to refer the matter to the Security Council, the board removed the last remaining roadblocks to that step. The move came after Iran rejected proposals by Western powers for a compromise solution.

IAEA director Mohamed ElBaradei's report was emailed to the council later in the day, the agency said, and will form part of the basis for any U.N. action over Iran's nuclear program.

Diplomats said the council would probably start debating Iran next week and U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said it would be Monday or Tuesday.

The five permanent members of the council met to discuss a statement that Britain, France and the United States are preparing for possible adoption next week.

The statement was to have asked for a report from the IAEA in 30 days on whether Iran had cooperated with U.N. nuclear and suspended its atomic activities, diplomats said.

But one envoy said Britain now wanted a 14-day deadline, while no immediate decision had been reached among the five -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France.

The IAEA board decided a month ago to send Iran's nuclear dossier to the Security Council, as long as it deferred any steps until after ElBaradei's findings were presented.


Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said sanctions mooted by Washington to bring Iran to heel would not work, a reminder that Moscow could veto any punitive crackdown on Iran.

Iran, the world's No. 4 oil provider, also said it would review its oil export policy should the council tackle its case, which EU powers said was now inevitable as Tehran had flouted demands to prove it was not secretly seeking atom bombs. "The United States may have the power to cause harm and pain but it is also susceptible to harm and pain," Vaeedi said.

Asked about Iran's warning, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said in New Orleans: "Provocative statements and actions only further isolate Iran from the rest of the world."

Iran insists it wants only nuclear-generated electricity but hid atomic work from U.N. inspectors for 18 years. Its recent calls for Israel's destruction have stoked alarm in the West.

Burns told the U.S. Congress Iran "directly threatens vital American interests" and Washington planned "a concerted approach (in the council) ... that gradually escalates pressure on Iran."

But Washington's top EU allies, Germany, France and Britain, struck a more cautious tone. "This is not the end of diplomacy," the "EU3" told the Vienna-based IAEA board.

Any U.S.-led move to impose sanctions would face stiff resistance from China and Russia, which share the West's wish to deny Iran nuclear know-how but want to shield lucrative energy investments in the Islamic Republic.


Lavrov, speaking after talks with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, also ruled out a military solution, alluding to U.S. and Israeli talk about bombing Iranian sites as a last resort.

Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz told Reuters during a visit to Germany that if the council was incapable of acting to prevent Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, the Jewish state would have no choice but to defend itself.

In 1981, Israel bombed Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor, setting back Saddam Hussein's bid for the bomb many years.

Gregory Schulte, U.S. ambassador to the IAEA, said Iran could face "meaningful consequences" for defying a February 4 IAEA resolution to stop trying to master technology to produce fuel for nuclear power plants or, potentially, the core of bombs.

But winning consensus even for targeted sanctions such as travel bans on Iranian leaders could be a slow struggle given non-Western resentment that Iran is being singled out while nuclear proliferators such as India, Pakistan and Israel, all with good ties to the West, escape similar treatment.

At the close of the board meeting, ElBaradei said the IAEA would keep up safety inspections and probes at Iranian nuclear sites even after the council got involved in the dispute.

Iran, which U.S. and Israeli officials accuse of backing Islamic militants in neighboring Iraq and elsewhere has said previously it can create problems for Washington in the region.

Asked whether the Islamic Republic could use an "oil weapon," Vaeedi said: "We will not (do so now), but if the situation changes, we will have to review our oil policies." He said Iran remained open to a negotiated deal but would continue with nuclear research activities "based on our right."

(Additional reporting by Francois Murphy, Irwin Arieff at the United Nations, Carol Giacomo in Washington, Matt Spetalnick in New Orleans and Louis Charbonneau in Berlin)


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