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Rice Seeks Greek, Turkish Help to Pressure Iran

The nations' fears about a U.S. resort to arms make the top American envoy's task harder.

April 26, 2006|Paul Richter | Times Staff Writer

ANKARA, Turkey — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice huddled Tuesday with Greek and Turkish officials, urging their cooperation to halt Iran's uranium enrichment program but struggling to overcome their anxieties that Washington may soon turn to military action.

U.S. officials acknowledge that there are widespread fears in both countries that Washington is weighing armed action against Iran, and may soon ask to use their territory or other help to launch the attacks.

Rice, whose stop in Athens was met by violent protests, declared at an appearance with Greek Foreign Minister Dora Bakoyannis that "the United States of America understands and believes that Iran is not Iraq.... While the president doesn't take any options off the table, we are on a diplomatic course here."

The U.S. and its West European allies suspect Iran wants uranium-enrichment expertise so that it will have the capability to make a nuclear bomb, but Tehran insists that the aim of its nuclear program is purely civilian.

One U.S. official said American diplomats faced an extra hurdle in their search for support because the allies remained focused on the ongoing conflict in Iraq that began with the American-led invasion to topple Saddam Hussein three years ago. As a result, the diplomatic task is first "a matter of giving them reassurance about what we're not doing, and then getting them onside on what we are doing," said the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the subject.

Meanwhile, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, warned that Tehran would halt cooperation with the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, if the U.N. Security Council imposed sanctions to try to halt Iran's nuclear program.

Rice said such statements "further Iran's isolation from the international community" and are "emblematic of the kind of Iranian behavior that we've seen over the last couple of years."

Iran has made similar threats on several occasions, and European diplomats said Larijani's recent comments were much the same as past ones.

The director-general of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, is set to report Friday on Iran's compliance with requests that it halt uranium-enrichment work and answer questions from international nuclear inspectors. His report is expected to say that Iran has made little progress in satisfying the demands of the international community.

Two weeks ago, Tehran not only flouted requests that it halt its program but also announced success in enriching uranium using a cascade of 164 centrifuges, which is more than the country had operated in the past.

There is still a slim chance Tehran might offer new information before the Friday report because a delegation from Iran's civilian atomic energy agency was due to arrive today in Vienna to meet with ElBaradei. However, Tehran's diplomatic strategy at the moment seems primarily to be one of defiance and proving both to an internal audience and to Muslim neighbors that it is on the way to becoming a nuclear power.

In New York on Tuesday, China's U.N. ambassador told reporters that his nation, which has veto power in the Security Council, would reject a proposed resolution by the U.S. to make the IAEA's demands for Iran to stop uranium enrichment legally binding under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter.

"It has always been China's position that this Iranian nuclear issue has to be solved diplomatically," Ambassador Wang Guangya said. "Therefore I think any resolution based on Chapter 7 will not serve the purpose in this regard."

U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton told reporters that the U.S. was not yet asking for sanctions, preferring a gradual approach. "From our perspective, we are going to take it one step at a time," he said.

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, was quoted Tuesday as suggesting that his country might pass on its nuclear know-how to other nations. "The Islamic Republic is ready to transfer this experience and the technology and knowledge of its scientists," the Associated Press quoted Khamenei as saying.

Iran has also made such offers in the past in an effort to burnish its image as a scientific powerhouse. However, there are indications from diplomats who monitor Iran that its recent boasts of mastering uranium enrichment may be somewhat exaggerated and that it had trouble operating the centrifuge machines. ElBaradei's report will probably shed more light on the accuracy of the recent Iranian claims, U.S. diplomats said.

Rice, for her part, condemned Khamenei's reported comments, saying the possibility of such transfers was one reason some countries fear Tehran's suspected nuclear arms ambitions.

The Bush administration strongly wants the support of Greece and Turkey as it tries to build international pressure on Iran. Greece is currently a member of the Security Council, and Turkey is a key trading partner with Iran and a regional power with important influence in Tehran.

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