New York Times: Negotiating over Iran’s nuclear program has come to resemble an endless session of global poker. In the latest round, played Wednesday in the boardroom of the international nuclear agency here, distrust beat diplomacy.
The New York Times
By ELAINE SCIOLINO
VIENNA, March 8 Negotiating over Iran’s nuclear program has come to resemble an endless session of global poker. In the latest round, played Wednesday in the boardroom of the international nuclear agency here, distrust beat diplomacy.
The Iranian side upped the ante by blaming the United States for Iran’s predicament consideration of its nuclear activities in the United Nations Security Council next week and threatened retaliation.
“The United States may have the power to cause harm and pain,” Javad Vaeedi, a senior Iranian nuclear negotiator, told reporters at the end of the meeting. “But it is also susceptible to harm and pain. So if the United States wants to pursue that path, let the ball roll.”
The threat did not seem to be an off-hand remark. The threat was contained, in almost the same wording and with the same mixed metaphor, in Iran’s speech to the 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency and in a separate formal statement. In Iran meanwhile, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed that those who wanted to “violate the rights of the Iranian nation will quickly regret their actions.”
But underscoring the fluid nature of Iran’s policy making, even Iran’s envoy in Vienna dodged when asked what letting the ball roll meant perhaps using oil as a weapon or destabilizing the region, for example. Ali Asghar Soltainyeh, Iran’s ambassador to the agency, said the matter would be “carefully” studied back home.
Wednesday’s meeting was Iran’s last chance to promise to curb its nuclear activities and avoid judgment by the Security Council.
Last month, the agency voted by an overwhelming majority to report Iran’s case for judgment to the Security Council, but gave Iran a grace period of one final month to take remedial steps before the Security Council would take action.
Instead of giving in, Iran held firm to its position that it had the sovereign right to continue to make small amounts of nuclear fuel for research purposes at its vast uranium enrichment plant at Natanz.
Consideration of the Iran case by the agency on Wednesday was a diplomatic ritual. It came toward the end of the regularly scheduled quarterly session of the board, in which several nuclear issues were discussed. A number of board members, as well as Iran, delivered speeches on Iran’s nuclear crisis, but no formal resolution was introduced.
Iran’s oil minister, Kazem Vaziri-Hamaneh, delivered a very different message in Tehran. He assured an edgy oil market that Iran would continue to export crude even if economic sanctions were imposed. His remarks underscored the fluid nature of Iran’s policy making.
Noting that sanctions “could affect” the oil market and raise prices, “it will not affect our decision to continue our supply,” he told reporters on the fringes of a meeting of OPEC oil ministers. “Oil flow is continuing. The exports will not be stopped.”
But the Bush administration was quick to focus on Iran’s threats. “Provocative statements and actions only further isolate Iran from the rest of the world,” the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, said in New Orleans.
Iran’s threats came a day after Vice President Dick Cheney declared, without any specifics, that the Security Council would “impose meaningful consequences” on Iran if it proceeded with uranium enrichment activities. He did not indicate how he was able to predict the outcome of Security Council deliberations before the body even met.
The Bush administration’s envoy to the nuclear agency, Gregory L. Schulte, kept up the fierce tone on Wednesday, telling reporters, “The leadership in Tehran has thus far chosen a course of flagrant threats and phone negotiation.”
Uncertainty about Iran’s intentions, coupled with persistent threats from Washington about punitive measures against Iran, prompted pleas for caution and a return to negotiations.
“Everybody is looking forward to a political settlement,” Mohamed ElBaradei, the agency’s director and the most recent recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, told reporters Wednesday in Vienna at the end of the meeting on Iran. He added: “What we need at this stage is cool-headed approaches. We need for people to lower the rhetoric.”
Dr. ElBaradei called on Iran to resolve outstanding issues of concern and restore the world’s confidence “to get out of the hole that we’re in today.”
He underscored that in the long term, the United States held the key to building Iran’s trust with the world. Stressing that it was a personal view, he said that once security issues began to be discussed with Iran, “the U.S. should be engaged into a dialogue.”
In Washington, R. Nicholas Burns, under secretary of state for political affairs, said action against Iran in the Security Council would start early next week.
The first step will be a “strong statement” about Iran, which means a statement by the Council president that lacks the force of a formal resolution. But Mr. Burns said that if the Iranian government did not “accede to the wishes of the international community, then of course we would have to look at possible targeted sanctions, which a number of countries are already beginning to explore.”
The sanctions “will be specifically targeted to pressure the regime and Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, rather than hurting the great majority of innocent Iranians,” he said.
The outcome of Wednesday’s meeting was a setback for Russia, which is opposed to using the Security Council as a vehicle to punish Iran. In recent days, Russia floated then withdrew under American pressure a face-saving proposal to restart negotiations that would have allowed Iran to conduct some small-scale uranium enrichment eventually.
In his speech to the board on Wednesday, Russia’s ambassador, Grigory V. Berdennikov, called on Iran to “fully cooperate” with the nuclear agency “without delay” so that its case could be dealt with in a “normal, routine” way inside the I.A.E.A.
The Russian foreign minister, Sergey V. Lavrov, said Wednesday after meeting with the United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, that “I don’t think sanctions as a means to solve a crisis has ever achieved a goal in the recent history.”