Bush, Merkel Discuss Iran at White House

German Chancellor Angela Merkel meets with President Bush at the White House, where the two confer on how to curtail Iran's nuclear program.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

And in this part of the program, we're going to talk about Iran. In a few minutes, Robert's conversation with Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner, Shirin Ebadi. First, the latest on the showdown over Iran's nuclear program. At the United Nations today, France and Britain introduced a toughly worded resolution. It demands that Iran suspend its nuclear activities. It also calls on countries around the world to block the transfer of goods that could help Iran's missile programs and nuclear research. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports.

MICHELE KELEMEN: U.S. and European diplomats say the idea of the draft resolution is to make past U.N. demands on Iran mandatory and legally binding. The U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. called it straightforward and slimmed down Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns says he's hopeful the council will approve the draft.

NICHOLAS BURNS: The Security Council resolution being put forward this week calls for the suspension of Iran's nuclear program. It calls for Iran to come back to negotiations with the Europeans. This is an agenda that the Iranian, that the world community should be able to accept, and the Iranians should be able to meet. So we are banking on a success in New York, and we'll go from there.

KELEMEN: U.S. Officials say the issue of targeted sanctions on Iran won't come up until the next resolution. Still, Russia and China, both veto holders, oppose language in this initial draft which they fear could pave the way for sanctions, or even military action. China's ambassador said the draft was tougher than expected. The ambassador, which has arms deals with Iran, said he would have written it differently.

Nicholas Burns says he spent a good deal of time with top Russian and Chinese diplomats before the draft was introduced.

BURNS: We had long and, uh, and very complicated discussions. We do know this, we know that Russia and China believe that Iran has gone too far.

KELEMEN: Burns has often said that countries are united on the goal, though tactical differences remain. Joseph Biden, the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, says one of the reasons the U.S. is having a hard time getting countries to agree on the tactics is that the Bush administration has little legitimacy in the Security Council.

JOSEPH BIDEN: We're left with nothing but Hobson's Choices. They've taken all the good choices off the table because of the incompetence in the way in which they proceeded.

KELEMEN: He blamed the Bush administration for being too late to back a European negotiating effort with Iran, and for taking the position that the U.S. won't talk with Iran about the nuclear issue, a policy that European diplomats have also criticized. Biden is urging the U.S. to stop, as he put it, jacking up the threat.

BIDEN: We all act like we're, you know, we're buying into this malarkey. That tomorrow, all of a sudden Iran's going to be able to put a thermonuclear device on the end of a missile, and threaten the United States of America. That's malarkey, that is malarkey. So we have a window here, we have a window. The window's somewhere between a couple years and a decade before they can get to that point.

KELEMEN: Senator Biden's big fear is that the Bush administration may, in the end, fail to persuade the U.N. to impose credible sanctions on Iran, and may conclude that there's no other option but to use air strikes to set back Iran's nuclear program. The Bush administration insists it's on a diplomatic path. If the U.S. can't persuade the U.N. to impose sanctions, U.S. officials say, they will try to persuade like-minded nations to do more to pressure Tehran to back off in an increasingly tense diplomatic showdown.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington.

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