US ratchets up the pressure on Iran

LOOKING FOR SUPPORT: The US' top diplomat is in the UK seeking help in isolating Iran over its nuclear program, after Russia took Tehran's side in the dispute


Mon, Oct 17, 2005 - Page 1

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice turned up the heat on Iran over its nuclear ambitions after a bruising trip to Russia and ahead of a meeting yesterday with key ally British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Rice, who arrived in London on Saturday, also warned Tehran against stoking the insurgency in neighboring Iraq after Britain alleged that recent attacks on troops there may be linked to Iran and the militant group Hezbollah.

In its defense, Iran's envoy to Britain rejected Washington's belief that the Islamic republic sought to develop nuclear weapons and insisted it needed nuclear energy to replace oil stocks when they run out. Ambassador Seyed Mohammed Hossein Adeli also denied that his country was involved in Iraq's insurgency.

Rice said Iran must resume negotiations with the EU on finding an acceptable solution to the nuclear issue.

In an interview with the BBC, she said referral to the UN Security Council was on the cards "when the diplomacy has run its course."

"The Iranians need to go back to the negotiating table," said Rice.

Talks with the so-called EU-3 -- Britain, France and Germany -- broke down in August. At that time, Iran ended a freeze on fuel cycle work by resuming uranium conversion -- a precursor to potentially dual-use enrichment work.

"They need to come to a conclusion that will allow them, if they wish [for] civil nuclear energy, to do that without raising concerns in the international community," Washington's top diplomat said.

Iran also said yesterday that it wanted to return to nuclear negotiations with the EU, but gave no ground on the EU's key demand that it halt all nuclear fuel processing before talks can resume.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi accused the US of upping the pressure on IAEA board members to refer Iran to the Council.

"America and Rice are pressuring other countries to vote against Iran, but we hope those countries act independently," Asefi said.

"The Council cannot be used as a Sword of Damocles against Iran. We cannot be threatened by referral," he said.

The US and the EU-3 have been lobbying members of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's nuclear watchdog, to refer Iran to the UN Security Council over its nuclear activities.

The agency's governing council is due to meet again on Nov. 24, but Rice avoided setting this date as a deadline for a decision.

"The Security Council option is there, at a time of our choosing," she said.

However, not all IAEA mem-bers back the move.

Russia rallied behind Iran when Rice paid a brief visit to Moscow to meet Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and President Vladimir Putin earlier Saturday following a whirlwind tour of Central Asia and a trip to Paris.