U.S. urges action on Iran

U.N. cannot allow Tehran to ignore will in nuclear standoff, Rice says


SOFIA, Bulgaria -- On the eve of a United Nations deadline for Iran to halt uranium enrichment, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called yesterday for diplomatic action against Tehran, warning that the Security Council cannot permit the regime to "simply ignore its will and its word."

Rice, appearing at a NATO meeting, said it was "pretty clear" that Iran will ignore the deadline set for today by the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency for a halt to enrichment. When the International Atomic Energy Agency reports this failure, she said, the Security Council must ask itself whether it will remain credible if it allows Iran to "simply flout the will of the international community" without penalty.

"The Security Council is the primary and most important institution for the maintenance of peace and stability and security, and it cannot have its word and its will simply ignored by a member state," Rice told reporters at a NATO foreign ministers' meeting in Bulgaria's capital, Sofia.

The Security Council adopted a statement a month ago giving Iran until today to suspend all activities linked to enrichment because it can be used to make the highly enriched uranium used in the core of nuclear warheads.

Iran says it is seeking the ability to enrich uranium in order to supply its civilian power plants. The Bush administration believes Iran wants to develop nuclear weapons and has been trying to build international pressure on Tehran as the deadline neared.

Iran's hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, vowed that no one could make Tehran give up its nuclear technology, and warned that the United States and its European allies will regret their decision if they "violate the rights of the Iranian nation."

The United States, Britain and France want a U.N. resolution that would make compliance with the U.N. demands compulsory and could open the way for sanctions. But Russia and China have appeared unwilling to move to tougher language or sanctions, and top Iranian officials have declared all week that they will not comply.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton has said that he plans to introduce a resolution that would require Tehran to comply with the council's demand to halt enrichment.

Rice sought to enlist more support this week as she met with leaders in Greece and Turkey and with top officials from the 26-member North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Though the alliance has taken no position on the issue, Rice discussed Iran's nuclear ambitions with other NATO members over dinner.

There have been signs all week that many countries are not convinced, and some fear that if diplomacy fails, the Bush administration would turn to military action, as it did three years ago with Iraq.

Earlier in the week, Greek and Turkish officials told Rice they were concerned that the United States would ask to use their territory or seek other help in military action against Tehran. Yesterday, Rice sought to allay concerns that the Bush administration might cite a new U.S. defense accord with Bulgaria to justify using military bases here for attacks on Iran.

"Let me go right to the heart of this question, because I know this is on people's minds," Rice said at a news conference. While President Bush "doesn't take any of his options off the table, we are committed to a diplomatic course" to press Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions.

The agreement, which is to be officially signed today, will give the U.S. military permission to have up to 2,500 troops in Bulgaria at a time. A Bulgarian national party called Attack organized a rally against the deal, drawing several thousand protesters yesterday in Sofia.

The demonstrators waved banners that read, "Condi, ask the Bulgarian people," and "U.S. bases war." Demonstrations also were organized this week during Rice's visits in Athens and Ankara, Turkey's capital.

Paul Richter writes for the Los Angeles Times. The Associated Press contributed to this article.

What's next

Today: U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei electronically issues his report on Iran's uranium enrichment program to the 35 member nations of his agency's board and to Wang Guangya, the U.N. Security Council president.

Tuesday: Officials from the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - who report directly to their foreign ministers - meet in Paris to discuss strategy on Iran.

Wednesday: The Security Council is expected to meet informally on the report.

May 9: The foreign ministers of the Security Council's five permanent members plus Germany meet at U.N. headquarters in New York. The council will meet on Iran formally after those talks.

[Associated Press]

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