Russia, China slam Iran's nuke plans
From combined dispatches
TEHRAN -- The world's leading powers, including Russia and China, joined the United States in expressing heightened concern yesterday over Iran's advancing its nuclear program in defiance of the United Nations.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in Washington, urged the U.N. Security Council to take unspecified "strong steps" to preserve its credibility. The Russian government repeated its assertion that force could not resolve the dispute.
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John R. Bolton went in more detail than Miss Rice, saying that Washington would seek a Chapter 7 resolution at the council. The chapter deals with threats to peace and allows the use of military force as a response.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Tuesday that Iran for the first time had succeeded in enriching uranium on a small scale, a key step in generating fuel for a reactor or fissile material for a bomb. He warned yesterday that forcing Iran to suspend its enrichment program would "cause everlasting hatred in the hearts of Iranians."
The U.N. Security Council has set April 28 as a deadline for Tehran to halt enrichment activity, although no consequences have been specified.
Miss Rice reiterated those demands yesterday.
"This is not a question of Iran's right to civil nuclear power. ... The world does not believe that Iran should have the capability and the technology that could lead to a nuclear weapon," she said, during a welcoming ceremony for President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea in Washington.
Asked whether the council would impose sanctions on Iran, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said, "That's a possibility as well, that's one option that's available."
Russia and China, key players to the Iran issue with veto rights at the Security Council, have thus far opposed sanctions. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said yesterday that the use of force was no answer to the standoff with Iran.
"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.
Russia and China rejected a Chapter 7 resolution yesterday, indicating that they are not ready to condemn Iran as a threat to international peace and security. "There is no reason for punitive measures yet," Russian Ambassador Andrei Denisov said at the United Nations.
"There is no evidence of noncompliance with the nonproliferation [treaty]."
Representatives of several key council members said yesterday that they do not intend to hold substantive discussions until after they read an upcoming report by Mohamed ElBaradei, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. oversight agency.
Upon arrival in Tehran late yesterday, Mr. ElBaradei said he hoped to persuade Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities.
"We hope to convince Iran to take confidence-building measures including suspension of uranium enrichment activities until outstanding issues are clarified," he told journalists at the Tehran airport.
"I would like to see Iran come to terms with the request of the international community."
The IAEA chief is scheduled to inspect the site where Iran claims to have enriched uranium in a laboratory by using 164 centrifuges.
Iran signaled its resolve to continue enrichment yesterday. "We will expand uranium enrichment to industrial scale at Natanz," Iranian Deputy Nuclear Chief Mohammad Saeedi told state-run television.
Mr. Saeedi said using 54,000 centrifuges will be able to produce enough enriched uranium to provide fuel for a 1,000-megawatt nuclear power plant like one Russia is finishing in southern Iran.
Scientists say that many centrifuges could produce enough uranium for more than a dozen atomic bombs each year.
Iranian Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, the armed forces joint chief of staff, said yesterday, "When a people master nuclear technology and nuclear fuel, nothing can be done against them. The West can do nothing and is obliged to extend to us the hand of friendship."
An IAEA diplomat in Vienna, Austria, where the IAEA is based, said U.N. inspectors would brief Mr. ElBaradei on their recent findings at Iranian nuclear sites and on Iran's claim to have enriched uranium by 3.5 percent, a level needed to fuel a nuclear reactor. "This will guide him in his discussions with Iranian leaders," he said.
Mr. 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.
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." French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy called it "a worrying step" and Iran should stop its "dangerous activities."
Betsy Pisik contributed to this report from New York.