Sunday Telegraph: The Bush administration is losing patience with Gordon Brown over Iran, with senior American diplomats frustrated by his reluctance to declare bluntly that the Islamic state must never be allowed nuclear weapons. The Sunday Telegraph
By Tim Shipman in Washington and Philip Sherwell in New York
The Bush administration is losing patience with Gordon Brown over Iran, with senior American diplomats frustrated by his reluctance to declare bluntly that the Islamic state must never be allowed nuclear weapons.
Allies of Condoleezza Rice, the US Secretary of State, have told The Sunday Telegraph that the Prime Minister should emulate France’s President Nicolas Sarkozy and warn that Iran may face military action, in order to help avert a new war in the Middle East.
The concerns reflect growing irritation in Washington, from the White House down, that Mr Brown will not match his more robust private conversations on Iran with hard-hitting public statements that would put pressure on the Teheran regime.
Ms Rice’s inner circle argue that unless Iran believes that its defiance of the international community will lead to serious economic and military consequences, there is little hope of diplomacy succeeding. They regard Britain as a key to that effort.
A senior State Department official with close ties to Ms Rice said: “It would be helpful if he took a tougher line in public. We’ve got to convince Iran that the West will not tolerate them developing nuclear weapons.
“At the moment, I don’t think Iran takes the threat seriously. We need Iran, and the rest of the world, to realise that this is not just a bunch of crazy Americans on the one side and flaky Europeans on the other – that we are united on this one.”
The concerns from such a senior official are significant because Mr Brown has previously been on good terms with the State Department. However, the Government under Mr Brown has already incurred the wrath of some US commanders in Iraq for the withdrawal of British troops from Basra.
White House officials have accused him of double-talk for offering support in private then sanctioning senior ministers to distance themselves from the Bush administration in public.
The State Department wants its closest allies to do everything they can to make diplomacy work, partly to convince hawks in the Bush administration to support the effort, and they are irritated that Mr Brown has failed to do so.
US diplomats want the Prime Minister to say publicly and repeatedly that a nuclear-armed Iran is totally unacceptable and that Teheran cannot and will not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons under any circumstances.
Until now, Mr Brown has stressed his support for a diplomatic resolution and, while not ruling out military action, has played down the prospect of war.
He told The Sunday Telegraph last weekend: “We are not going to rule anything out. The road that we want is a diplomatic road and the sanctions, we believe, are an important element of persuading the Iranians about the strength of feeling in the international community.”
In stark contrast, Mr Sarkozy has made clear that war will come. Last week, while in the US, he pointedly said that it was “unacceptable that Iran should have, at any point, a nuclear weapon”, the exact words that the State Department wants to hear from Mr Brown.
The French President had previously said that Teheran was presenting the world with a choice between “an Iranian bomb and bombing Iran”. His foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, warned in September: “We must prepare for the worst. The worst is war.”
American diplomats believe any chance of persuading Russia, China and other European nations to support tougher sanctions on Iran is undermined if Britain appears publicly queasy about the consequences of failure. An official said: “I’d like to see more stick from Europe if any carrot from us is to work.”
The complaint comes at a critical moment in both the Iranian nuclear crisis and transatlantic relations. The International Atomic Energy Agency will this week release a new report on Iran’s nuclear programme.
After that report is sent to the IAEA board on November 22, it is expected to lead to another United Nations Security Council discussion of sanctions.
Iran’s announcement last week that it now has 3,000 nuclear centrifuges in operation – seen as a precursor to a nuclear bomb sparked speculation in Washington that Israel may soon consider military action against the nuclear sites.
The concerns were revealed as Mr Sarkozy made his high-profile trip to Washington, sparking anxiety that France is usurping influence once enjoyed by Britain. This weekend President George W Bush is host to Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, at his ranch in Texas, during which Iran will be a key talking point.
Nile Gardner, a former adviser to Margaret Thatcher and an expert on transatlantic relations at the Heritage Foundation think tank, said: “Britain is clearly losing influence in Washington after Tony Blair. Brown is the invisible man in terms of his profile here.
“It should be of concern in London that France is muscling in on traditional British territory.”