Iran Threatens 'Harm and Pain' to United States The United States and Iran clash at the Vienna headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency during a new round of talks on Tehran's nuclear program. Iran warns that the United States will feel "harm and pain" if tough measures are imposed against it by the U.N. Security Council.

Iran Threatens 'Harm and Pain' to United States

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block. Efforts to broker a last-minute compromise over Iran's nuclear program appear to have failed, and the matter is headed for the U.N. Security Council. That has led to some heated rhetoric between Iran and the United States. NPR's Mike Shuster reports.

MIKE SHUSTER: Both the United States and Europe's leading powers today made strong statements at the meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna, all emphasizing that the time has come for the U.N. Security Council to take up the issue of Iran's nuclear ambitions. That prompted what sounded like a threat from one of Iran's chief nuclear negotiators in Vienna, Javid Vaidi.

JAVID VAIDI: We are trying to avoid confrontation. But the United States may have the power to cause harm and pain. But it's also susceptible to harm and pain. So if the United States wishes to choose that path, let the ball roll.

SHUSTER: The White House called Vaidi's comments provocative and said they only serve to isolate Iran from the rest of the world. Vaidi appeared to be responding to some heated statements made by the Bush Administration in recent days. Yesterday Vice President Cheney said Iran would face consequences if it continued down the path toward nuclear weapons. On Sunday, U.N. ambassador John Bolton had even stronger words for the government in Tehran.

JOHN BOLTON: The Iranian regime must be made aware that if it continues down the path of international isolation, there will be tangible and painful consequences.

SHUSTER: Last month the International Atomic Energy Agency decided to report the Iran nuclear issue to the Security Council. But, pushed by Russia and China, it decided to delay such action for a month to see if the pressure might bring about some compromise. In the last few days, a compromise proposal emerged where Iran would forego large-scale uranium enrichment for up to nine years if it were permitted to carry out small-scale enrichment of uranium. Russia appeared to embrace this approach, but the U.S., backed by Great Britain, France and Germany, was dead set against it. Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, met in Washington yesterday with Secretary of State Rice and President Bush, but by the end of the day it was clear there was no compromise. Today, testifying before the House International Relations Committee, Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns said the issue will be taken up in the Security Council within a matter of days.

NICHOLAS BURNS: And we believe that next Monday or Tuesday the United Nations Security Council will begin a very active debate about Iran's nuclear ambitions. That debate will be designed to shine a very large and intensive spotlight on what we believe to be a clear Iranian program.

SHUSTER: Burns said it is the intention of the United States to push for steadily escalating actions from the Security Council, up to and including economic sanctions. But American officials today were careful to put the emphasis on diplomatic action. By most intelligence estimates, Iran is many years away from acquiring a nuclear weapon. Under Secretary of State for Arms Control Robert Joseph told the House panel there is little disagreement among most member nations of the IAEA about Iran's ultimate goal.

ROBERT JOSEPH: In short, Iran is determined to acquire a nuclear weapons capability, but we are equally determined to stop it. The president has emphasized that all options are on the table to deal with this threat, but that our strong preference is to do so through effective diplomacy.

SHUSTER: Nevertheless, this week's heated rhetoric has begun to rattle some world leaders. Russia's foreign minister said today that sanctions against Iran won't work, and the IAEA's director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, called for cooler heads to prevail.

MOHAMED ELBARADEI: Everybody understands also that escalation is not going to help a situation that is highly, highly volatile right now in the Middle East. But everybody also would like to see a balance between Iran's right to use nuclear energy for peaceful purpose and assurances to the international community that that program is exclusively for peaceful purpose.

SHUSTER: Still, it looks as though some kind of confrontation may be inevitable when the Security Council finally puts Iran's nuclear program on its agenda.

Mike Shuster, NPR News.

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