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Key Powers Give Iran Ultimatum on Its Nuclear Program

Ministers tell Tehran it must halt uranium enrichment. They plan to seek U.N. sanctions.

July 13, 2006|Sebastian Rotella | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — The United States and five other world powers gave Iran a stern ultimatum Wednesday, announcing that they would seek a U.N. Security Council resolution authorizing sanctions against Tehran unless the regime suspended its nuclear program.

The announcement came after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met here with top diplomats from France, Britain, China and Russia, all permanent members of the Security Council, along with envoys from Germany and the European Union.

Despite past Russian and Chinese reluctance to take a hard line with Iran, the diplomats said in a joint statement that they had "no choice" because Tehran had not responded to an offer of incentives in exchange for stopping development of the nuclear program.

"The Iranians have given no indication at all that they are ready to engage seriously on the substance of our proposals," said French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, reading the statement. "Iran has failed to take the steps needed to allow negotiations to begin.... We express profound disappointment over this situation."

The countries involved could begin work at the United Nations as early as next week on drafting a resolution that sets a mandatory deadline for Iran to suspend all uranium enrichment activities or face punitive consequences, diplomats said. Emyr Jones Parry, the British ambassador to the U.N., said in New York that the Security Council would work this week on revising a resolution that had been introduced in May, and then formally present it next week. The resolution was suspended two months ago to allow Iran time to respond to the incentives package.

Just how punitive the potential sanctions might be, given Beijing's and Moscow's strong commercial ties with Tehran, will not be determined until after the deadline established in the resolution, diplomats said. At the U.N. on Wednesday, China and Russia put forth a resolution that would call for less stringent action against North Korea, another regime with nuclear ambitions, than are being sought by the U.S. and Japan.

The foreign ministers' statement in Paris made it clear that Iran could still avoid punishment and return to talks with European negotiators by complying with demands to stop enriching uranium.

"The offer ... is still on the table," U.S. Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns told journalists after the meeting. "It's up to Iran to decide which path to take, negotiation or action by the Security Council."

The foreign ministers made no mention of potential military action against Tehran. Their statement warned of "measures under Article 41 and Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter," a section that allows the Security Council to impose economic and other types of sanctions.

Tehran did not respond Wednesday evening. Iranian leaders say they are enriching uranium for civilian uses and deny accusations by Western powers that they are secretly trying to build a nuclear weapon.

Iranian diplomats have said they will respond by Aug. 22 to the proposed package of political, economic and nuclear incentives, which among other things offers U.S. and European assistance in developing civilian atomic technology.

The foreign ministers in Paris expressed unanimous frustration with apparent Iranian stalling tactics, a senior State Department official said. The official asked not to be identified because of the sensitivity of the topic.

Diplomats from France, Germany, Britain and the European Union have taken the lead in the nuclear talks with Tehran. Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief, reported to his counterparts here Wednesday that three negotiating sessions since June 6 had produced no progress, the official said. Solana had a tense discussion Tuesday in Brussels with Ali Larijani, the chief Iranian negotiator, who declared afterward that Tehran refused to be rushed.

"Solana said essentially in that meeting that the Iranians gave him nothing to work with," the official said. "We called their bluff today. We said, 'No, we are not going to be strung along. We are not going to wait any longer.' "

Nonetheless, the envoys agreed that it was important to leave open an opportunity to resume talks. There is a perception that Iranian leadership factions are immersed in an internal dispute about the best way to resolve the standoff with the West, the official said.

On the other side of the table, U.S. diplomats were cautiously upbeat about achieving a show of unity ahead of this week's summit of the Group of 8 leading industrialized nations in St. Petersburg, Russia, although Russia and China are expected to continue resisting punitive action against Iran as the confrontation intensifies.

In comments to reporters on her plane en route to Paris, Rice said the U.S. and its allies had worked long and hard to forge a common front on the Iranian nuclear issue.

"We started out in a situation 18 months ago or so where there was no international coalition about what to do about Iran," Rice said.

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Times staff writer Maggie Farley at the United Nations contributed to this report.

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