U.S. expects Iran to reject U.N. appeal to end nuclear program


WASHINGTON -- A senior State Department official said yesterday that he expects Iran to reject a U.N.-backed entreaty to end its nuclear enrichment program and added that the United States will quickly press for international sanctions against Tehran if an Aug. 31 deadline is not met.

Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns, the Bush administration's point man on Iran, said the United States has the backing of fellow permanent members of the United Nations Security Council for economic and diplomatic sanctions and will push for them to be imposed early next month if Iran does not halt uranium enrichment at its Natanz nuclear facility.

"We would want to move very quickly," Burns said of getting U.N. approval of sanctions. "They will be well-deserved."

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and foreign ministers from the other four permanent members of the Security Council, along with Germany, agreed June 1 to offer incentives aimed at persuading the Iranian government to end its enrichment program and admit international inspectors.

The offer was followed by a Security Council resolution at the end of last month calling on Iran to respond to the terms by the end of August or face sanctions.

Pressure was growing on Iran when the Lebanon-Israel war broke out last month, and some analysts have speculated that Iran capitalized on that conflict to deflect attention from the nuclear issue.

Burns said the war between Israel and Hezbollah, a Lebanese militant group established and supplied by Iran, has strengthened the hand of U.S. officials in the nuclear standoff, saying it has laid bare Iran's larger ambitions to become more influential in the region.

"If you're looking at the impact the Lebanon war will have on the Security Council debate on the Iran nuclear issue, I think there is greater concern now about the role of Iran in the Middle East than there had been before," Burns said during a meeting of defense writers.

Iran has given mixed signals on whether it will respond to the U.N. deadline. Iranian leaders had indicated that they would answer by a self-imposed Aug. 22 deadline. But the government was angered by the U.N. resolution, seeing it as a threat, and indicated that it might not respond to the offer at all.

Iranian officials have indicated all along that they would not abandon their nuclear ambitions, which they have said are intended solely for civilian use.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad reaffirmed that stance yesterday during a visit to the Namin, in northwestern Iran. According to the semi-official Fars news agency, Ahmadinejad dismissed the Security Council resolution and said Iran might never give up its nuclear program.

"They must know that the entire Iranian nation is determined to maintain its right of access to peaceful nuclear technology and that Iranians' support for the state's nuclear stances is rock solid," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying.

Although last month's Security Council resolution was passed 14-1, Russia and China have expressed reluctance to quickly impose sanctions on Iran and have backed away from language that would have made the sanctions automatic.

As a result, a failure by Iran to meet the Aug. 31 deadline would lead to a new round of debates at the United Nations.

The United States, Britain, France, Russia and China are the permanent members of the Security Council, which also includes 10 rotating members.

No list of sanctions have been agreed upon, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said. But U.S. officials have indicated in the past they would initially seek measures that would steer clear of directly affecting ordinary Iranians, but rather would target government leaders through restricting travel and freezing assets.

Peter Spiegel writes for the Los Angeles Times

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