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UN: Security Council Appears Deadlocked Over Iran

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton at an unscheduled press conference at the United Nations, March 8 (epa) Discussions over the Iranian nuclear crisis appear for now to have deadlocked among the permanent five members of the UN Security Council. Representatives of the “permanent five” met in New York on March 13, but Britain, France, and the United States remain split with China and Russia over the language of the resolution. In an effort to break the stalemate, Britain and the United States say they may broaden discussions to include all 15 members of the Security Council.

PRAGUE, March 14, 2006 (RFE/RL) – After three meetings, the five permanent members of the UN Security Council seem to be as far as ever from agreeing on how to respond to Iran’s nuclear activities.

The Iran nuclear crisis reached the Security Council on March 8, when the UN’s nuclear watchdog agency reported Iran for non-cooperation. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) accused Iran of withholding information, possessing plans linked to nuclear weapons, and refusing to freeze uranium enrichment.

So far, the five permanent members remain split into two camps. Britain, France, and the United States want to send a strong warning to Iran that sets the stage for eventual talk of sanctions if Tehran continues its non-cooperation. But Russia and China – which favor continued negotiations with Iran rather than Security Council pressure -- want softer language.

"It shouldn’t come as any surprise to anybody that the Iranians would love to talk further. They’ve loved talking for the last four years and they’ll talk as long as they can, as they master the technical difficulties they’ve encountered in the uranium enrichment process."

U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton said on March 13 that if the five permanent members cannot agree on a statement soon, the Western powers will reach out to the 10 rotating Security Council members for support.

"It's a British-French draft that we've been considering and I think, I wouldn't be surprised if within a day or two the elements might not be distributed to the full council and I think that's appropriate," Bolton said. "We’re trying within the Perm Five [the five permanent members of the Security Council] but we’re not going to rest there, if we can’t reach agreement we'll go to the larger council."

A 14-Day Deadline

The British daily, “The Times” reported today that Britain and France want to give Iran a deadline as little as 14 days to suspend uranium enrichment. The paper says Russia and China are resisting that.

“The Times” also reports that another key disagreement is whether, after the expiry of the deadline, the IAEA would report on Iran’s degree of compliance directly back to the Security Council – as the Western powers want -- or merely to the IAEA’s governing board.

A report to the IAEA’s governing board could lead to further time-consuming discussions over whether to report Iran a second time to the Security Council.

Confusion Over Russia's Position

As the talks in New York continue, Russia’s position has grown particularly difficult to predict.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told journalists on March 13 that Russia was "disappointed" by Iran's contradictory responses to a proposal to have Iranian uranium enrichment work performed jointly on Russian soil as a way to ease concerns about the nature of the Iranian program.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia would continue talking with Iran (epa)

"We hear contradictory signals coming from Tehran. One day they reject [Russia's proposal], the next day they don't. I want to say once again that we are very disappointed with the way Iran has been conducting itself in these negotiations, absolutely not helping those who try to find peaceful ways to resolve the whole situation around Iran's nuclear program."

But at the same time, Russia announced it would hold new talks with Iran, in response to what Lavrov said was a proposal from Iran in the last day or two to hold more consultations.

Frustration Increasing In West

Asked by reporters on March 13 about Iran’s desire to re-open talks with Russia, U.S. Ambassador Bolton was scathing in his assessment of Tehran’s motives.

"It shouldn’t come as any surprise to anybody that the Iranians would love to talk further. They’ve loved talking for the last four years and they’ll talk as long as they can, as they master the technical difficulties they’ve encountered in the uranium enrichment process."

As frustration mounts in Western capitals over the lack of progress toward a tough Security Council warning, some of the 10 rotating members of the Council are signaling they are ready to get involved.

Ambassador Cesar Mayoral of Argentina, who is the Security Council president for March, hinted that there are already some informal consultations on Iran between the permanent five (P-5) and the other rotating members.

"I think the 15 members [full Security Council] are involved in the issue, not only the P-5 are involved. We’re not having the 15 members meeting but there are some meetings between members of P-5 and members not of P-5. For the moment there are elements, there is no one formal copy of [the draft]."

A Chance To Hear From Smaller Countries

If the discussions now widen to include all 15 Security Council members, the rotating members could emerge as potential tie-breakers.

That means that in the hours ahead, the drama at the Security Council could increasingly turn to listening to the voices of countries who are rarely publicly heard in the debate over Iran.

The 10 rotating members include such varied countries as Argentina, Denmark, and Japan.

Analysts say Western powers hope to win enough support for a toughly-worded statement that Russia and China would have to choose between backing it or appearing to be at odds with mainstream international opinion.

What Would Sanctions Mean?

What Would Sanctions Mean?

Economic sanctions could further undermine Iran's already shaky economy (Fars)

MOVING TOWARD SANCTIONS: If the United Nations Security Council imposes sanctions on Iran, domestic support for Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad will wane, according to ALEX VATANKA, Eurasia editor for Jane's Information Group.
Vatanka told a February 24 RFE/RL briefing that "economic sanctions will hurt the average Iranian" and, consequently, many "will blame the ruling clerics" for making life difficult and "impairing the country's long term development."
Vatanka said sanctions would be a serious challenge to the Iranian government. If harsh economic sanctions were imposed, Iran's poorest population will be hurt the hardest -- and might react "as they did in the 1970s and protest in the streets." Sanctions on travel, Vatanka said, would hurt a many Iranians because "Iran is a nation of small traders" who depend on the ability to travel to earn an income. According to Vatanka, unemployment in Iran is estimated at 30 percent, "so small trading is essential to survival." Although current U.S. sanctions "haven't worked," he said, "Iranians fear an oil embargo." He stressed that "oil revenues are a major part of the economy, so it is critical to look at this sector."
Should negotiations with the European Union and the UN fail, Vatanka believes that Iran would follow a "North Korea model," since Ahmadinejad's base of support among the "Islamist militias" has been "urging withdrawal from the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty]." The Iranian government's "tactic" so far, Vatanka said, is governed by the belief that "by shouting the loudest, you'll get concessions [from the West]."


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THE COMPLETE STORY: RFE/RL's coverage of the controversy surrounding Iran's nuclear program.


An annotated timeline of Iran's nuclear program.