Thursday, April 13, 2006

Criticism mounts over Iran

Yahoo News:

By Parisa Hafezi

Wed Apr 12, 6:16 PM ET

The world's leading powers, including Russia and China, joined to condemn Iran on Wednesday for advancing its atomic program in defiance of the United Nations, but Moscow said force could not resolve the dispute.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad declared on Tuesday that Iran had produced its first batch of enriched uranium and would now press ahead with industrial-scale enrichment.

His announcement kept Tehran on a collision course with the United Nations and with Western countries convinced Iran seeks atomic arms, not just fuel for power stations as it insists.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the U.N. Security Council, which last month told Tehran to halt all enrichment work, should respond with unspecified "strong steps" to maintain the credibility of the international community.

Asked if the council might impose sanctions, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said: "That's a possibility as well, that's one option that's available."

But Russia and China, veto-carriers at the Security Council, have hitherto opposed sanctions.

Several council members insisted it would stick to its plan, announced last month, not to consider further action until International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei made a report at the end of April.

President Bush this week dismissed media reports of U.S. plans for strikes on Iran as "wild speculation."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the use of force was no answer to the standoff over Iran's nuclear program.

"If such plans exist they will not be able to solve this problem. On the contrary they could create a dangerous explosive blaze in the Middle East, where there are already enough blazes," he said. China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya said the Iranians' move was "not in line with what is required of them by the international community," but that talk of sanctions or military steps "will not be helpful under the current circumstances."

Diplomats said the five permanent members of the Security Council -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- plus Germany would meet in Moscow next week alongside a Group of Eight meeting to discuss Iran.

NO TURNING BACK

Russia's Foreign Ministry urged Iran to stop all enrichment work. But a senior Iranian official ruled out any retreat.

"Iran's nuclear activities are like a waterfall which has begun to flow. It cannot be stopped," said the official, who asked not to be named.

ElBaradei arrived in Tehran to seek Iranian cooperation with the Security Council and the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

An IAEA diplomat in Vienna said U.N. inspectors would brief ElBaradei on their recent findings at Iranian nuclear sites and on Iran's claim to have enriched uranium by 3.5 percent.

ElBaradei will reiterate to Iran recent calls by the IAEA and the Security Council for a halt to all enrichment work, and seek answers to IAEA queries for his next report to the council.

"It's wishful thinking to think Iran would shut down the nuclear process entirely now," the IAEA diplomat said. "What happened yesterday, which was predictable, doesn't change that big picture ...

"They have obviously achieved a significant advance at the research and development level and want to present it as a fait accompli to strengthen their bargaining position with the West." U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan urged all parties to return to talks and "cool down the rhetoric."

Three European states behind a deal to suspend enrichment which broke down last year weighed in with criticism of Iran.

British Foreign Minister Jack Straw said the announcement was "deeply unhelpful" and undermined confidence. His German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, said Iran was "going in precisely the wrong direction" for a return to negotiations.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said it was a worrying step and Iran should stop its "dangerous activities."

Deputy White House chief of staff Karl Rove said reaching a diplomatic solution with Iran "is going to be tough because they are led by ideologues who have a weird sense of history," and that Ahmadinejad was "not a rational human being to deal with."

The State Department said it was unable to confirm that Iran had enriched uranium and some experts said even if Tehran's assertions were accurate, it would still be years before the Islamic Republic was able to produce a nuclear weapon.

The level of enrichment needed for nuclear bombs is many times higher than the 3.5 percent Iran says it has reached.

It would take about two decades for Iran's current cascade of 164 centrifuges to yield enough highly enriched uranium for one bomb. But Tehran says it wants to install 3,000 centrifuges, which could produce enough material for a warhead in one year.

(Additional reporting by Oliver Bullough in Moscow, Sue Pleming in Washington, Luke Baker in Jerusalem, Mark Heinrich in Vienna, Irwin Arieff in New York, Nicola Leske in Amsterdam)

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