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White House Against Any Enrichment Plan For Iran March 7, 2006

Posted by notapundit in Main, White House.
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WASHINGTON (AP)–The White House said Tuesday it opposes allowing Iran to enrich any uranium, and expects the U.N. Security Council to move forward to rebuke Tehran for its disputed nuclear program.

“The international community has spelled out what Iran must do – that means suspend all enrichment activity,” presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said ahead of President George W. Bush’s meeting Tuesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

McClellan’s comments came as a diplomat in Vienna, Austria, where the International Atomic Energy Agency has its headquarters, told The Associated Press that Iran is offering to suspend full-scale uranium enrichment for up to two years. The offer reflected Tehran’s attempts to escape Security Council action over the activity, which can be used to make nuclear arms.

The diplomat, who demanded anonymity in exchange for divulging confidential information, said the Tehran’s offer was made Friday by chief Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani in Moscow in the context of contacts between Iran and Russia on moving Tehran’s enrichment program to Russia.

Diplomats familiar with talks between Russia and Iran said Moscow is insisting on a full enrichment freeze of up to eight years – including small-scale activity. But in return Moscow negotiators promised to float a post-suspension resumption of a small-scale program – involving 20 research centrifuges – and other components of an enrichment program in talks with senior U.S. and European officials.

The Bush administration is getting closer to a U.N. Security Council rebuke of Iran, but the latest round of diplomacy shows the United States needs the help of Cold War foe Russia to close the deal.

Lavrov is holding multiple meetings with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, plus the highly unusual session in the Oval Office. U.S. presidents customarily receive foreign heads of state in the presidential office, but seldom invite a lower-ranking official such as a foreign minister for a meeting there.

“This is an issue of confidence with the international community,” McClellan said. “The regime has shown it cannot be trusted. It hid its nuclear activities for two decades from the international community. It has refused to comply with its international obligations. This is about the regime and its behavior. That’s what this is about and that’s what our focus is.”

Rice and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley had dinner with Lavrov Monday evening.

Russia is also a key player in the U.S. drive to limit aid to the extremist group Hamas, which has taken control of the Palestinian legislature.

The U.S. desire for Russian help against Hamas is just one of several cards Lavrov holds as the Security Council prepares to take up the case of Iran’s disputed nuclear program.

Russia, which has veto power as one of the permanent members of the Security Council, is perhaps Tehran’s most important ally and business partner. Russia also has crafted a potential compromise to head off sanctions or other punishment of Iran.

China, which also has veto power on the Security Council, is appealing for further negotiation. “Iran should cooperate closely with the IAEA to settle the nuclear dispute,” Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing said Tuesday in Beijing at a news conference. “There is still room for settlement of the issue in the IAEA.”

The United States won a diplomatic coup in February when Russia went along with the U.S.-backed effort to report Iran to the council, but had to agree to a delay of at least a month before the council could take any action. That window is closing without the progress Russia hoped to claim on its proposed nuclear compromise.

It is not clear, however, that Moscow will support a U.S. move for penalties against Iran.

Russian agencies quoted Lavrov as saying Monday that Russia’s proposal to move Iran’s uranium enrichment program to Russian territory remains on the table, but that Iran must reimpose a moratorium on the enrichment of uranium and agree to new scrutiny by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

“The result of the IAEA session that has begun in Vienna can be satisfactory only if the remaining questions about Iran’s past nuclear program are completely answered,” Lavrov said in Ottawa, according to the ITAR-Tass news agency.

Rice telephoned Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the IAEA at the agency’s Vienna headquarters on Monday to reiterate the U.S. position that Iran “must cease all (uranium) enrichment-related activity,” according to State Department spokesman Tom Casey.

Meanwhile, a top State Department official warned that the Security Council will intervene “quite actively” if Iran does not act quickly on the nuclear issue.

The IAEA will reaffirm its stance this week in Vienna, “unless Iran does a dramatic about-face and suspends all of its nuclear activities,” Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told the Heritage Foundation, a private research group.

He did not say what the United States would ask the Security Council to do. While the Bush administration takes a stern line toward Tehran it is not seeking economic or other penalties immediately, and might not be able to win Russian or other backing for that move in any case.

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