Rhetoric Heats Up in Iran Nuclear Debate

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Iran threatens the United States with "harm and pain" if it tries to use the United Nations Security Council as a lever to punish the country for its nuclear activities. Washington is warning that Tehran has enough nuclear material for up to 10 atomic bombs. Renee Montagne talks to Greg Webb, editor for Global Security Newswire.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council are slated to meet tomorrow to discuss the wording of a resolution addressing Iran's suspect nuclear program. The dispute over Iran was presented to the Security Council yesterday by the International Atomic Energy Agency. An IAEA report accuses Iran of withholding information and refusing to freeze uranium enrichment.

It also charges Iran with possessing plans linked to the development of nuclear weapons. Iran continues to insist its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, and it has lashed out at the United States, accusing it of pursuing an anti-Iranian agenda. It also threatened retaliation.

Mr. JAVAD VAIDI (Nuclear Negotiator, Iran): The United States may have the power to cause harm and pain, but it is also susceptible to harm and pain. If the United States wishes to choose that path, let the ball roll.

MONTAGNE: That was Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Javad Vaidi, speaking yesterday at the IAEA meeting in Vienna. We turn now to Greg Webb, editor for the Global Security Newswire, who is in Vienna.

And there remains a difference of views among the five permanent Security Counsel members over the Iran issue, with Russia in particular, opposing sanctions or any military action. So, what's likely to come out of these consultations?

Mr. GREG WEBB (Editor, Global Security Newswire): Well, Renee, I think the first thing that the Security Counsel will try to pursue is a simple statement to urge Iran to cooperate with the IAEA requests. It will be just a benchmark measure to get the process started at the Security Counsel. They'll say something like, do what you need to do with the IAEA, do more to help the world understand your nuclear program. And then they'll wait a bit, to see if Iran changes its behavior or not.

If the course is the same, and the IAEA feels like it's getting inadequate cooperation, it will report to the Security Counsel that fact. And then the Security Counsel will begin to consider what additional measures it can do to push Iran a little bit harder than the IAEA is able to do all by itself.

MONTAGNE: And what happened to Russia's offer to enrich uranium for Iran on Russian soil? That was in play for quite some time.

Mr. WEBB: It was, and it apparently fell apart this week. Both of the main parties didn't like it, and those were Iran and the United States. So, if Russia proposed an idea whereby Iran would suspend all it's uranium enrichment activities for as many as nine years, Iran was not willing to wait that long. But the Russian deal also allowed Iran to resume uranium enrichment activity after that suspension, and the United States has been unwilling to allow that.

So, neither side liked it, and it created a very awkward moment in Washington this week when Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov was forced to practically deny there had ever been such a proposal.

MONTAGNE: Is, then, some sort of action by the U.N. Security Counsel inevitable?

Mr. WEBB: Well, I don't think it's inevitable. And most of the outcome is probably dependent on how Iran chooses to act. Iran has been quite defiant, as you heard in the quote that you just had from the delegate Vaidi. But should Iran decide to become more cooperative to restore some of the openness measure that it had given to the IAEA in the past, if it decides to suspend its uranium enrichment activities, which it has resumed now, then I think it will create some time and ease the pressure, and allow people to talk a little bit more.

MONTAGNE: If the international community fails to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions, what does this say about the issue of nuclear nonproliferation?

Mr. WEBB: It's a real concern right now, because we've seen a deterioration of the international nonproliferation regime, in particular, the Nonproliferation Treaty, which Iran is a party to. So, the treaty is threatened, but it's not just from a rogue, or so-called rogue regime like Iran. But we're seeing some difficulties from the United States, which has just agreed with India to provide nuclear technology. And India is not a member of the Non- Proliferation Treaty, and it creates the impression of a double standard, which Iran is seizing on to criticize the United States.

MONTAGNE: Greg Webb, thanks very much.

Mr. WEBB: Thank you.

MONTAGNE: Greg Webb is editor of the Global Security Newswire, a daily online news service about weapons of mass destruction funded by the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which lobbies on nuclear nonproliferation issues.

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