Iran response to U.N. is said to fall short

But U.S. hesitates to call for sanctions

August 24, 2006|By Peter Spiegel | Peter Spiegel,LOS ANGELES TIMES

WASHINGTON -- The Bush administration said yesterday that Iran's response to international efforts to restrain its nuclear program fell short of a U.N. Security Council demand that Tehran suspend its uranium enrichment activities by Aug. 31. But U.S. officials declined to say whether that meant it would push for economic sanctions against Iran at the United Nations next week.

The administration's refusal to immediately call for sanctions marked a change in tone from signals sent by American officials before Iran issued a 21-page counteroffer Tuesday. Over the past week, senior U.S. diplomats had warned that anything short of a full cessation of Iran's enrichment program would lead to a quick U.S.-led push for targeted sanctions at the United Nations.

The U.S. stance appeared even more muted than that taken by France, where Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told reporters that any return to the negotiating table would depend on Iran suspending its enrichment program. The Security Council is scheduled to meet Aug. 31 to officially consider Iran's response and decide whether it should move toward sanctions.

The administration's reaction came in an announcement by the State Department, where a spokesman called the Iranian response "a serious offer" that warranted review. White House spokesman Dana Perino said afterward that while Iran did not meet the key requirements on enrichment and reprocessing, the United States was continuing to discuss the document with the other four permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, plus Germany. "I think that we need some time to review it and to discuss what the next steps are," Perino said.

President Bush discussed the Iranian response with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in a morning telephone call during which Annan said he is planning to travel to the Middle East at the end of the week. Although the trip will include a stop in Tehran, U.N. officials said his discussions will focus on the U.N.-brokered cease-fire in Lebanon.

Bush also discussed Iran's offer, which included a call for new, "serious negotiations," with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Other than Douste-Blazy's remarks, the reaction from most allied capitals showed similar restraint to that from Washington - a sign that world powers wanted to avoid displaying any differences so quickly on the heels of an acrimonious debate over the cease-fire in Lebanon.

Furthermore, officials were not under pressure to respond quickly, given that the scheduled Security Council meeting on Iran's nuclear program was still more than a week away.

It remained unclear whether the Bush administration's subdued reaction to the Iranian document signaled a genuine willingness to re-engage Tehran on the nuclear issue or was an attempt to show publicly that it was not dismissing the proposal out of hand.

Peter Spiegel writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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