U.S. asks Greece, Turkey for cooperation on Iran

April 26, 2006|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

ANKARA, Turkey -- Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice huddled yesterday with Greek and Turkish officials, urging their cooperation to halt Iran's uranium enrichment program but struggling to overcome their anxieties that Washington might soon turn to military action.

U.S. officials acknowledge that there are widespread fears in both countries that Washington is considering armed action against Iran, and might soon ask to use their territory or for other help to launch the attacks.

Rice, whose stop in Athens was met by violent protests, declared at an appearance with Greek Foreign Minister Theodora Bakoyannis that "the United States of America understands and believes that Iran is not Iraq. ... While the president doesn't take any options off the table, we are on a diplomatic course here."

The United States and its Western European allies believe that Iran wants uranium enrichment expertise so that it will have the capability to make a nuclear bomb, but Tehran insists that the aim of its nuclear program is purely to generate electricity.

A U.S. official said the American diplomats faced an extra hurdle in their search for support because the allies remain focused on the continuing conflict in Iraq that began with the invasion to topple Saddam Hussein three years ago.

Meanwhile, Iran's top negotiator, Ali Larijani, warned that Iran would halt cooperation with the United Nations' watchdog agency, the International Atomic Energy Agency, if the Security Council imposes sanctions to try to halt Tehran's nuclear program.

Rice said that such statements "further Iran's isolation from the international community" and are "emblematic of the kind of Iranian behavior that we've seen over the last couple of years."

The director of the international nuclear agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, is scheduled to report Friday on Iran's progress in nuclear research, at the request of the Security Council and the IAEA board of governors. His report is expected to say that Iran has made little progress in satisfying the demands of the international community.

Two weeks ago, Tehran not only flouted requests that it halt its enrichment program but began to produce uranium enrichment in a cascade of 164 centrifuges, which is more than the country had operated in the past.

There is still a slim chance that Iran might offer new information before Friday since a delegation from Iran's civilian atomic energy agency is to arrive today in Vienna, Austria, to meet with ElBaradei. However, Iran's diplomatic strategy seems primarily to be one of defiance and proving to an internal audience and to Muslim neighbors that it is on the way to becoming a nuclear power.

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