Biden urges U.S. to join negotiations with Iran

Failure to take part in nuclear talks could lead to need to invade, he says

February 14, 2005|By Ken Silverstein | Ken Silverstein,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- A top Democratic senator urged the Bush administration yesterday to join three European allies in negotiating with Iran to get it to abandon its nuclear programs, saying failure to do so could result in the need to invade the country.

"This is a case where we're ... on the sidelines," Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr. of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said on Fox News Sunday. "The three European countries that are negotiating with the Iranians are saying, `Look, we've got to get in the deal with them. We can't just sit on the sidelines.'"

In Tehran, a government spokesman warned the Bush administration yesterday against attacking Iran's nuclear facilities and said talks with the European countries could resolve the dispute.

Iran rejected a European demand to stop building a heavy-water nuclear reactor in return for a light-water reactor yesterday, hardening Iran's position on a key part of its nuclear facilities that critics contend is part of a weapons program.

The announcement is Iran's clearest statement yet of its nuclear plans. It underscored the unresolved differences between Iranian and European negotiators.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said Iran plans to become a major nuclear fuel supplier in 15 years, part of a program that Iran says is for domestic energy purposes but Washington says is aimed at producing an atomic bomb.

Britain, France and Germany have been seeking to persuade Iran to drop any activities that could be used to develop nuclear weapons in exchange for economic incentives.

The Bush administration has suggested that Iran is using its nuclear power program as a shield to produce nuclear weapons and says it will not rule out any option to stop the country from doing so.

Biden criticized Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for her recent comments suggesting that the United States would not sign on to a deal between the Europeans and Iran even if Tehran agreed to accept a verification program to ensure its nuclear program was only for peaceful purposes.

"Nothing [the Europeans are] going to be able to do is going to be involved with us unless we're willing to get into some kind of an agreement that results in a verifiable arms-control agreement," Biden said on Fox.

He said that if diplomatic efforts fail, efforts to block Iran's nuclear program could be sent to the United Nations. If both those options fail, he said, the United States would be left with two unattractive options.

"You accept them as a nuclear power, which I'm disinclined to do, or you invade, which we are not really particularly capable of doing right now," he said.

Speaking on CNN's Late Edition, Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV, a West Virginia Democrat and vice chairman of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, said that he always viewed Iran as being "much more of a problem" than Iraq and that not taking the country seriously would be "an enormous mistake."

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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