U.N. urges dialogue on Iran

Foreign ministers use more conciliatory tone amid nuclear standoff

March 31, 2006|By JEFFREY FLEISHMAN AND ALISSA J. RUBIN | JEFFREY FLEISHMAN AND ALISSA J. RUBIN,LOS ANGELES TIMES

BERLIN -- U.N. atomic energy chief Mohammed ElBaradei urged the international community yesterday to steer away from threats of sanctions against Iran to prevent the dispute over Tehran's nuclear intentions from spiraling out of control.

Meanwhile, foreign ministers of major powers meeting here struck a more conciliatory tone than in recent weeks after an agreement Wednesday by the United Nations Security Council to give Iran 30 more days to respond to requests from the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency that it halt uranium enrichment research.

ElBaradei, speaking in Doha, Qatar, emphasized that Iran is not "an imminent threat" and urged countries to "lower the pitch" in their effort to stop Iran's nuclear work.

In recent weeks the United States and members of the European Union have made increasingly confrontational statements about what they say is Iran's intent to perfect technology to enrich uranium with the goal of eventually manufacturing a nuclear weapon.

"There is no military solution to this situation," said ElBaradei, Nobel Prize-winning director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency. "It's inconceivable. The only durable solution is a negotiated solution."

Russia and China, as well as several countries in the Middle East, have expressed concern that the United States and the EU are pursuing similar tactics with Iran as with Iraq a few years ago, creating a sense of crisis that makes it easier to make the case for military action.

Yesterday, comments by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her counterparts from China, Russia, France, Germany and Britain made clear that despite the Security Council's unity, deep ideological differences remain among the major powers over what the next steps should be. ElBaradei's comments seemed timed to influence them during the crucial monthlong period.

Britain, France and the United States have said that they would be willing to level sanctions or ultimately use military force against Iran if Tehran continues its effort to enrich uranium. Russia and China oppose punitive action, a position they reiterated at yesterday's meeting, because they fear it would make Iran more confrontational and could lead to further turmoil in the Middle East.

The statement approved by the Security Council essentially buys the United Nations 30 days to figure out what to do if Iran remains defiant. When the period ends, ElBaradei is required to issue another report on whether Iran has complied with IAEA requests, which include halting uranium enrichment research, answering questions about its nuclear program and ratifying IAEA regulations allowing U.N. inspectors more access to nuclear facilities and to plants where parts are manufactured for its nuclear industry.

Iran insists that its nuclear program is purely for peaceful generation of energy. Uranium enriched to low levels can be used to generate electricity but enriched more intensively can be used to make nuclear weapons.

Yesterday, Rice took a somewhat more moderate tone toward Iran.

"This isn't the time to try and come to a conclusion about what the next step is," said Rice, speaking to reporters on the plane on her way to the meeting. "It's an opening discussion about those next steps. ... A lot is going to depend on the Iranian reaction, and I would not at this point carve in stone anybody's decisions about what the next steps might be."

Jeffrey Fleishman and Alissa J. Rubin write for the Los Angeles Times.

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