United States Pushes U.N. for Action Against Iran
JOHN YDSTIE, host:
This is expected to be a busy week for diplomacy on Iran. The Bush administration, armed with a new report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, wants the U.N. Security Council to begin to act on Iran's nuclear program. However, it will be an uphill battle to get the council to impose sanctions on Iran. Russia and China oppose sanctions, and even some Europeans are doubtful they would work.
As NPR's Michele Kelemen reports, the diplomatic options are limited.
MICHELE KELEMEN reporting:
A top State Department official goes to Paris this week to consult with a group of diplomats who have been meeting regularly on Iran. U.S. and European officials in New York are also hoping to work quickly to get a binding Security Council resolution.
And concerns about Iran's nuclear ambitions will be high on President Bush's agenda when he meets Germany's chancellor on Wednesday.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: Listen, the first thing that has to happen diplomatically for anything to be effective is that we all agree on the goal. And we've agreed on the goal, and that is that Iran should not have a nuclear weapon, the capacity to make a nuclear weapon, or the knowledge as to how to make a nuclear weapon. And now that we've got the goal in mind, we're working on the tactics.
KELEMEN: But even close allies are questioning the Bush administration's tactics. The head of the German parliament's Foreign Relations Committee, Ruprecht Polenz, says Washington should show more patience and not be in such a rush to get targeted U.N. sanctions.
Parliamentarian RUPRECHT POLENZ (Chair, Foreign Relations Committee, Republic of Germany): Do you really think that if we could impose this and we got a U.N. Security Council resolution the Iranians will give in? No, probably not. So, and then what's next?
KELEMEN: Polenz was in Washington recently, suggesting the U.S. should talk directly with Iran, though he admits he didn't get any traction on that idea.
Parliamentarian POLENZ: So far, the government here has not chosen what to prioritize: regime change or dealing with the nuclear problem. And I would suggest we should prioritize first dealing with the nuclear program.
KELEMEN: Larry Wilkerson, who was chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, blames the Bush administration for missing an opportunity to talk with Iran when America had a stronger hand. He says Iran tried to open talks soon after the U.S. toppled Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq, when Iran thought it might be next.
Mr. LARRY WILKERSON (Former Chief of Staff, U.S. Department of State): And we sacrificed that. We sacrificed it because we don't talk to evil. We don't talk to evil, that's a policy. That's a radical policy. It's a radical policy not to exercise diplomacy, particularly in matters that are of such strategic importance as Iran.
KELEMEN: A current State Department official says there's a bit of revisionism in that statement. The Iranian offer was more limited.
Administration officials also argue that the nuclear dispute is not just between the U.S. and Iran, but rather a concern for the broader international community. So the diplomatic approach the Bush administration is taking is mainly to encourage countries to consider some sanctions. The U.S., itself, can't do much more on that front.
As the American ambassador to the U.N., John Bolton, recently pointed out, the U.S. already has long-standing sanctions on just about everything to do with Iran.
Ambassador JOHN BOLTON (U.S. Ambassador, United Nations): Importation of Persian rugs and pistachio nuts I think are open, so there are a few things we could take a look at. Those were opened in the Clinton administration, I'm told, to encourage small business in Iran.
KELEMEN: While Bolton begins what's likely to be tough negotiations on the Security Council resolution this week, U.S. officials are already thinking about alternatives to U.N. sanctions, and talking about forming a coalition of the willing to do more to isolate Iran diplomatically.
Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.