Wed, Jul 02, 2003 - Page 7 News List

Use of force against Iran appears unlikely


British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, left, looks on as Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, greets a British delegation during a meeting in Tehran on Monday. Straw has said that Iran must agree to unfettered inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog if it hopes to improve trade ties with Europe.


There are no signs the US is about to use force to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons. And even if the White House were so inclined, its closest allies might not go along.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Monday there were no circumstances in which Britain would agree to an attack on Iran.

"No one should ever compare Iran with Iraq in terms of their political systems or their danger," said Straw, whose government stood alongside the US in going to war to depose Iraqi President Saddam Hussein.

Two weeks ago, the foreign ministers of the 15 EU countries, meeting in Luxembourg, virtually ruled out force against Iran. They adopted a strategy statement that reflected the opposition many of their governments had to the war with Iraq.

The statement said weapons of mass destruction must be combatted primarily with political and diplomatic measures, mostly through the UN.

"Coercive measures," such as intercepting arms shipments or using force, "could be envisioned" only if diplomacy failed, they said.

But as disinclined as European countries may be to using force against Iran, they appear to be more concerned about the challenge of Iran's nuclear weapons program than they were a few months ago, a senior US official said Monday.

The US has incontrovertible evidence that Iran is enriching uranium for the production of nuclear weapons, a State Department official told reporters on condition of anonymity in early June.

US President George W. Bush warned last week that Iran had better keep its promise not to develop nuclear weapons. If the Iranians don't, "we will deal with that when they don't," the president said.

Bush said Iran's failure to provide access to International Atomic Energy Agency inspectors was unacceptable. "Iran must comply," he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, whose government has provided Iran with questionable technology, promised last month that Russia would insist that all Iranian nuclear programs be put under control of the IAEA.

And Straw said the international community was united in demanding Iran agree to a protocol that provides for more intrusive inspections.

If Iran balks, Straw warned, it might find the Europeans delaying a projected trade agreement with Tehran.

Responding to an initiative by Bush, some 10 countries now have held two meetings on how to deprive Iran of technology to develop nuclear weapons.

A third meeting is expected in Washington this month.

The senior US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said participating countries were trying to decide what is legal and proper, for instance whether it would be acceptable to intercept ships bound for Iran.

He said Iran posed a different situation from Iraq so far as using force. "You never take anything off the table," he said of the military option.

"But we want to use the International Atomic Energy Agency, we want help from the Europeans, and we want help from the Russians," he said.

There are no signs that Bush has asked the Pentagon to update its contingency plans to take into account a possible war with Iran. Nor are there signs of military preparations. US forces are stretched thin already with major troop commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to ongoing peacekeeping missions in Bosnia and Kosovo and a defensive presence in South Korea and Japan.

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