Rice to Press for U.N. Security Council Action on Iran

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice heads to London amid a flurry of diplomatic activity over Iran's nuclear program. The U.S. and key European nations want to bring Iran before the United Nations Security Council, and they will be trying to convince Russian and Chinese officials to agree on that step.

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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is in London with a busy schedule ahead of her. Tomorrow she'll take part in a conference on Afghanistan, discuss ways to respond to Hamas, and kick off a week of diplomacy as the U.S. calls for international pressure on Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:

Before he became the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton was the State Department's lead official on arms control. He has long sought to get Iran before the United Nations Security Council and thinks it could happen soon.

Mr. JOHN BOLTON (Ambassador, United Nations): I do think it changes the dynamic to have the Iranian weapons program in the spotlight in the Security Council rather than considered a technical agency of the U.N.

KELEMEN: He was referring to the International Atomic Energy Agency which is meeting in emergency session on February 2nd. It's up to the IAEA's Board of Governors to decide whether to report Iran to the Security Council. Russia has been promoting a go slow approach but Bolton says U.S. and European diplomats have been working out the language of a referral that could win broad support.

Mr. BOLTON: The lawyers have been cogitating about he nature of the language and I am confident that when the lawyers finish cogitating they will come up with the right language and when it gets to the security council, we will know what to do with it.

KELEMEN: The idea then would be to slowly ratchet up diplomatic pressure on Iran with a threat of targeted sanctions down the road. Bolton gave no timetable. Some critics say the U.S. missed opportunities to resolve the Iran issue in less punitive ways. Washington was late to back European negotiating efforts, which reached a dead end when Iran resumed nuclear research earlier this month. And there was the war in Afghanistan when the U.S. and Iran did have some limited but constructive contacts. Joseph Cirincione of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace says the Bush Administration didn't do much to follow up.

JOSEPH CIRINCIONE (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): Because of missed opportunities and the war in Iraq, the U.S. in a weaker position now to deal with Iran than it otherwise would have been but we are playing a weak hand well at this point.

KELEMEN: Because the U.S. did eventually support the European negotiating track it now has Europe fully behind the effort to get Iran to the Security Council. This lends credibility to the U.S. effort. The key, Cirincione says, is Russia.

Mr. CIRINCIONE: Russia and China are known to want more time. They want to be assured that this is actually going to be a negotiating process and they aren't being set up the way they felt they were set up during the Iraq War where the U.S. used the U.N. process as a staging area for the war. They don't want to fall into that trap again.

KELEMEN: Secretary Rice meets Monday night in London with foreign ministers of the permanent Security Council member states including Russia and China. Cirincione says she will need all her diplomatic skills to succeed.

Mr. CIRINCIONE: If other countries even sniff a bit of set up or the hint of a secret agenda on the part of the United States everything could collapse. You could lose Russia in a second.

KELEMEN: Russia has held out hope that the Iranians will accept it's deal to provide nuclear fuel which would ensure that Iran doesn't get the technology to produce weapons grade uranium. U.S. officials point out that Iran has had plenty of time to consider the deal and never embraced it. The number three official at the State Department, Nicholas Burns, says Iran is in arrears to the international community-having violated pledges to the European Union and violated its IAEA commitments.

NICHOLAS BURNS (Official at U.S. State Department): So, I actually think the diplomacy in London, at the foreign ministers' meeting on Monday, is going to focus on the transgressions of the Iranian government--and there's a great deal of unity in the international community about those transgressions--and try to see if we can have a consensus to move forward on a tactical basis together, to move the issue to the Security Council.

KELEMEN: Secretary Rice's busy diplomatic schedule in London also includes a Donor's Conference on Afghanistan. Iran is expected to send a delegation to that meeting but Burns says he sees no chance of any U.S. Iranian contacts. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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