U.S. efforts to impose sanctions on Iran at the U.N. "appear stalled," the Financial Times of London reported Wednesday. -- (Twenty-five years after the Iranian Revolution, "The U.S. and Iran refuse to talk to each other," and when Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Iran's new president, spoke to the U.N. General Assembly Wednesday, "the U.S. delegation was absent from the assembly hall," the FT noted.) -- EU3 diplomats appeared poised to abandon efforts to persuade the IAE to refer the matter of Iran's nuclear program to the U.N. Security Council. -- On Wednesday the Washington Post reported that a "PowerPoint briefing, titled 'A History of Concealment and Deception,' has been presented [by Bush administration officials] to diplomats from more than a dozen countries," but that even U.S. officials acknowledge that "the evidence is not definitive." -- "The presentation has not been vetted through standard U.S. intelligence channels because it does not include secret material," the Post noted, adding: "One U.S. official involved in the briefing said the intelligence community had nothing to do with the presentation and 'probably would have disavowed some of it because it draws conclusions that aren't strictly supported by the facts.'" -- AP reported that remarks of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice indicate that the U.S. is backing away from its push to bring the matter before the International Atomic Energy Agency board on Monday, Sept. 19, and that U.S. and EU3 negotiators are now in disagreement on tactics. -- This would appear to render moot the pressures that the U.S. has been bringing to bear on India in an effort to garner its support at the IAEA, which were the subject of a Reuters report on Wednesday. -- Unmentioned in all these reports is Israel, which has, like the U.S., been making plans for military action against Iran's nuclear program. -- Israel's efforts against Iran, coordinated with the United States, were the subject of a Haaretz report on Thursday. -- But "Israel prefers to maintain a low profile when it comes to Iran," as a JTA Focus Story put it on Tuesday. ...
Middle East & Africa
EFFORTS TO PURSUE IRAN SANCTIONS STALL
By Guy Dinmore (United Nations), Daniel Dombey (Brussels), and Gareth Smyth (Tehran)
Financial Times (UK)
September 14, 2005
President George W. Bush and his allies on Wednesday appeared stalled in their efforts to start the diplomatic process of sanctioning Iran for pursuing what western governments suspect is a clandestine nuclear weapons program.
China, Russia, and India were among the major powers in the process of developing closer economic ties with Iran that were reluctant to take the country to the United Nations Security Council. The impasse over Iran reflected the broader failure among governments negotiating at the U.N. to agree on a text covering the whole issue of disarmament and nuclear proliferation -- an omission Kofi Annan, U.N. secretary-general, branded a real disgrace.
Iran is miscalculating if they think that the pressure will lessen. It will increase. None of its neighbors wants Iran to pursue nuclear weapons, Nicholas Burns, U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs, told the FT. He said the U.S. was waiting for a signal from Iran that it was willing to return to talks with the EU3 of Britian, France, and Germany.
But western diplomats acknowledged that the EU3 might decide at next weeks International Atomic Energy Agency board meeting in Vienna to put off attempts to refer Iran to the UN Security Council. While the US and EU could muster a simple majority on the 35-member board to pass a resolution it would not be of sufficient weight to lead to effective action on the Council.
Meanwhile, Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, Irans new conservative president, made his debut on the world stage with a forceful speech that, without naming the U.S., was clearly directed at the Bush administrations unilateralism and pre-emptive measures as well as what he called the gradual spiritual deprivation of societies.
The U.S. delegation was absent from the assembly hall, unlike in 1998 when then president Bill Clinton took his seat to listen to Irans reformist president of the day, Mohammad Khatami, when both countries were inching -- ultimately without success -- towards mutual engagement. This time the U.S. made it clear it had only granted a visa to Mr Ahmadi-Nejad, regarded by the Bush administration as a suspected terrorist, because of U.S. obligations as host country to the UN.
Diplomats and analysts said the Bush administration seemed to be making little headway in achieving even the first step towards sanctions, which would involve the IAEA board agreeing next week to refer the issue to the Security Council.
Mr. Bush on Tuesday acknowledged what he called Irans right to develop nuclear power but not the expertise to enrich uranium that would provide the material for a nuclear weapon.
But Mr. Bush seems to have failed to persuade Hu Jintao, Chinas president, to give his support.
We didnt come away with a clear commitment, said Michael Green, the senior official for Asia in the U.S. National Security Council.
Prime minister Manmohan Singh of India, keen to acquire U.S. assistance for Indias own nuclear program, told Mr. Bush India would act constructively over Iran.
But again there did not seem to be the commitment the U.S. was seeking. Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad was engaged in his own diplomacy, holding bilateral meetings with allies.
The U.S. and Iran refuse to talk to each other. An Iranian official said Mr. Ahmadi-Nejad was expected to put forward proposals on Saturday that would lay out new ideas to assuage concerns Iran would divert enriched uranium for weapons use.
U.N. DEPLOYS SLIDE SHOW TO PRESS CASE AGAINST IRAN
By Dafna Linzer
September 14, 2005
UNITED NATIONS -- With an hour-long slide show that blends satellite imagery with disquieting assumptions about Iran's nuclear energy program, Bush administration officials have been trying to convince allies that Tehran is on a fast track toward nuclear weapons.
The PowerPoint briefing, titled "A History of Concealment and Deception," has been presented to diplomats from more than a dozen countries. Several diplomats said the presentation, intended to win allies for increasing pressure on the Iranian government, dismisses ambiguities in the evidence about Iran's intentions and omits alternative explanations under debate among intelligence analysts.
The presenters argue that the evidence leads solidly to a conclusion that Iran's nuclear program is aimed at producing weapons, according to diplomats who have attended the briefings and U.S. officials who helped to assemble the slide show. But even U.S. intelligence estimates acknowledge that other possibilities are plausible, though unverified.
The problem, acknowledged one U.S. official, is that the evidence is not definitive. Briefers "say you can't draw any other conclusion, and of course you can draw other conclusions," said the official, who would discuss the closed-door sessions only on condition of anonymity.
The briefings were conducted in Vienna over the past month in advance of a gathering of world leaders this week at the United Nations. President Bush, who is to address the annual General Assembly gathering Wednesday, and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, plan to use the meeting to press for agreement to threaten international sanctions against Iran.
The president's direct involvement marks an escalation of a two-year effort to bring Iran before the U.N. Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions, unless Tehran gives up technology capable of enriching uranium for a bomb. U.S. officials have acknowledged that it has been an uphill campaign, with opposition from key allies who fear a prelude to a military campaign.
Several diplomats said the slide show reminded them of the flawed presentation on Iraq's weapons programs made by then-secretary of state Colin L. Powell to the U.N. Security Council in February 2003. "I don't think they'll lose any support, but it isn't going to win anyone either," said one European diplomat who attended the recent briefing and whose country backs the U.S. position on Iran.
Robert G. Joseph, undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, acknowledged last week that despite European support, the Bush administration has traveled a tough road in persuading others that Iran should face consequences for a nuclear program it built in secret.
"There's a great deal of resistance . . . on the part of many governments who don't seem to place, quite frankly, nonproliferation and Iran, a nuclear-armed Iran, at the top of their priority list," he told a congressional panel last week.
Several influential nations such as India, Russia, China, South Africa and Brazil share U.S. suspicions about Iran's intentions. But they maintain profound differences with the Bush administration over how to respond, and are apprehensive about the goals of a U.S. president who has said "all options are on the table," in dealing with Tehran.
Three years ago, the White House used the same annual gathering to put both Iraq, and the world community on notice. In a toughly-worded speech, delivered six months before the U.S. invasion of Iraq, Bush warned that the United States would deal alone, if necessary, with a dictator bent on launching nuclear weapons.
The U.S. intelligence community no longer believes Iraq was trying to reconstitute a nuclear program, as the president said. Those and other U.S. intelligence failures have remained fresh in the minds of international decision-makers now being asked to weigh the case of Iran.
The Iraq experience has had a "sobering effect" on Iran discussions, said President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, a close ally of the Bush administration. In an interview, he refused to speculate on whether Iran, whose program was secretly aided by Pakistan's top nuclear scientist, had been designed for weapons production. But he said he feels confident Iran's aims are now peaceful and there was no need for Security Council action.
Iran's new president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is also attending the U.N. summit, has his own meetings scheduled in New York, and Iranian officials said he would use the gathering to mount forceful counterarguments. Iranian diplomats have been in close contact with countries such as Japan, which relies heavily on Iranian oil.
The outcome of both sides' efforts will be tested on Sept. 19, when diplomats from 35 countries meet at the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna to decide whether to report Iran's case to the Security Council.
Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns last night suggested the administration may not be able to press for a successful vote and was exploring other options. He said the administration was working "with lots of other governments to devise an international coalition that will call upon Iran to return to the talks," it walked away from this summer with European negotiators. "There is a consensus that Iran has got to return to the talks."
Iran insists its nuclear efforts are aimed at producing nuclear energy, not bombs. The Bush administration contends that the energy program, built in secret and exposed in 2002, is just a cover. "They cannot be allowed to develop nuclear weapons under the guise of a civilian nuclear program, which is what they're trying to do," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said earlier this month.
A recent U.S. intelligence estimate found that Iran, mostly through its energy program, is acquiring and mastering technologies that could also be used for bomb-making. But there is no proof that such diversion has occurred, the estimate said, and the intelligence community is uncertain as to whether Iran's ruling clerics have made a decision to go forward with a nuclear weapons program.
The estimate judged Iran to be as much as a decade away from being able to manufacture the fissile material necessary for a nuclear explosion. A report issued last week by the International Institute for Security Studies, a London-based research group, found Iran was 10 to 15 years from the technical know-how to build a bomb.
Both reports are based in large part on the findings of U.N. nuclear inspectors, now in their third year of investigating Iran's program. While no proof of a weapons program has been found, serious questions about Tehran's past work on centrifuge designs and experiments with plutonium -- a key ingredient for a nuclear weapon -- have yet to be adequately addressed and have furthered suspicions that the country is hiding information.
With little new information from the probe, the Bush administration put together its own presentation of Iran's program for diplomats in Vienna who are weighing whether to report Iran to the Security Council.
The presentation has not been vetted through standard U.S. intelligence channels because it does not include secret material. One U.S. official involved in the briefing said the intelligence community had nothing to do with the presentation and "probably would have disavowed some of it because it draws conclusions that aren't strictly supported by the facts."
The presentation, conducted in a conference room at the U.S. mission in Vienna, includes a pictorial comparison of Iranian facilities and missiles with photos of similar-looking items in North Korea and Pakistan, according to a copy of the slides handed out to diplomats. Pakistan largely supplied Iran with its nuclear infrastructure but, as a key U.S. ally, it is identified in the presentation only as "another country."
Corey Hinderstein, a nuclear analyst with the Institute for Science and International Security, said the presence of a weapons program could not be established through such comparisons. She noted that North Korea's missile wasn't designed for nuclear weapons so comparing it to an Iranian missile that also wasn't designed to carry a nuclear payload "doesn't make sense."
U.S. BACKS OFF IRAN NUCLEAR VOTE
September 14, 2005
NEW YORK -- Apparently lacking the votes to win, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice indicated Wednesday President George W. Bush's administration is prepared to delay again a showdown with Iran over its nuclear weapons program.
Describing efforts to constrain Iran from producing nuclear weapons, Ms. Rice said: The world is not perfect in international politics. You cannot always get a 100-per-cent solution.
But Russia quickly registered its opposition to trying to impose sanctions now on Iran in the U.N. Security Council and the White House acknowledged Wednesday that Bush was unable to obtain a commitment from Chinese President Hu Jintao.
The Bush administration had been expected to turn to the U.N. Security Council to put pressure on Iran to resume negotiations with the European Union after the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency meets next Monday.
But in an interview Wednesday with the Fox News Editorial Board, Ms. Rice took a step backward.
I am not so concerned about exactly when it happens, Ms. Rice said, because I don't think this matter is so urgent that it has to come on Sept. 19.
She said the goal now is mostly to send a political message to Iran that it that it just cannot break out of a commitment not to engage in nuclear weapons preparations and have everybody say, well, okay.
The problem, she said, is there is a lot of consensus on the goal of having negotiations with the European Union resume. But she said there is a lot of difference about tactics.
The European Union has taken the lead in trying to persuade Iran to halt development of nuclear weapons in exchange for economic concessions.
But Ms. Rice said: The question is, how much support can you bring that is non-European support.
That's really more the issue, she said.
Ms. Rice last week appealed openly to China, Russia, India, and other countries to support threatening Iran with sanctions for refusing to halt its nuclear program.
Iran needs to get a message from the international community that is a unified message, Ms. Rice said Friday at a news conference.
U.S.-INDIA NUCLEAR BONDING MAY HIT SNAG OVER IRAN
By Y.P. Rajesh
September 14, 2005
NEW DELHI -- India's rapidly expanding relations with the United States are being threatened by its links with Iran, and New Delhi is being forced to choose between its two allies, officials and analysts said on Wednesday.
And it has less than a week to decide.
U.S. President George W. Bush raised concerns about India's position over Iran during talks on Tuesday with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, an Indian official said.
The talks come ahead of a September 19 meeting of the board of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the United Nations nuclear watchdog, which is likely to vote on referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions over Tehran's nuclear program.
India, a member of the IAEA board, has so far tried to do a delicate balancing act between its longstanding ties with Iran -- a big source of its oil imports -- and its new friendship with Washington.
"The prime minister reiterated that India is strongly opposed to proliferation of weapons of mass destruction," the official told Reuters from New York. "Iran has to live up to its commitments to international non-proliferation laws."
Singh also called for more diplomacy on the issue ahead of the IAEA meeting, said the official, refusing to comment on whether India had made up its mind on the IAEA vote.
But analysts said New Delhi had little time to lose. Washington -- which is leading the campaign against Tehran's nuclear program -- needs at least 18 votes to sew up a majority against Iran at the IAEA and is still working to rally support.
U.S. congressmen have clearly warned India that a sweeping new nuclear agreement with the United States, which Singh signed earlier this year, could be at risk if New Delhi does not side with Washington on Iran.
"The immediate question is where does India stand on the Iran question at the IAEA. On September 19 India will have to make a choice. That's it," Indian strategic affairs commentator C. Raja Mohan said.
ENERGY SECURITY NEEDS
Iran has become an albatross around India's neck ever since New Delhi's ties with Washington -- once Cold War adversaries-- began to blossom in the final years of Bill Clinton's presidency.
The friendship hit a high in July when the United States, in a landmark deal, promised India full cooperation in developing its civilian nuclear energy program, seven years after imposing sanctions on New Delhi for conducting nuclear tests.
At the same time, Washington has pressured New Delhi publicly to abandon plans for a $7 billion gas pipeline from Iran through Pakistan and to distance itself from Tehran which it accuses of secretly developing nuclear weapons.
For India, however, Iran is not just an old friend.
The Islamic nation accounts for more than five percent of India's crude oil imports and is also the only region where New Delhi -- a late starter in the global race for petroleum assets -- has met with success in its quest for energy security.
As a result, to dump Iran and embrace the United States -- considered untrustworthy in the past by India and opposed by communists who shore up the ruling coalition -- would be a bitter pill for New Delhi, analysts said.
While India cannot give Iran the impression that it is bowing to U.S. pressure, it also cannot be vocal about its stand and make it difficult for Bush to get Congress to approve the India-U.S. nuclear deal, they said.
"This requires a very sophisticated degree of diplomatic management," said Naresh Chandra, a former Indian ambassador to Washington. "This is how the big boys play and we have to take it in our stride."
(Additional reporting by Himangshu Watts)
U.S., ISRAEL LOBBY U.N. AGAINST IRANIAN NUKES
By Aluf Benn
September 15, 2005
UNITED NATIONS -- The United States and Israel are waging a diplomatic battle on the sidelines of United Nations General Assembly meetings, in an effort to prevent Iran from continuing its pursuit of nuclear power.
The International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors will be meeting Monday to discuss an American demand to turn the Iran issue over to the Security Council, which has the authority to impose financial sanctions on Tehran due to its covert efforts to develop nuclear power.
The upcoming IAEA meeting will be critical since the composition of countries represented on the board of governors will change shortly after the meeting and it will become more difficult to win a majority against Iran. The American position appears to have a slim majority, but the U.S. prefers to win broad support. The primary obstacle is opposition from Russia and China.
Prime Minister Ariel Sharon tried to convince Russian President Vladimir Putin during a meeting yesterday to bring the Iran case before the Security Council as soon as possible. Russian officials said before the Sharon-Putin meeting that Russia wants to delay a decision on its position until Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad delivers a speech to the General Assembly tomorrow. They expect Ahmadinejad to present new positions that will make it easier to resolve the dispute.
Meir Dagan, who heads the Mossad intelligence agency and has been appointed by Sharon to lead diplomatic efforts to thwart Iran's nuclear plans, came to the U.S. with Sharon on Tuesday and held talks with his counterparts in Washington. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom met with officials from countries represented on the IAEA board of governors and described the severity of the problem a nuclear Iran would pose.
BEHIND THE SCENES AT U.N., ONE FOCUS FOR SHARON: IRANIAN NUKES
By Ron Kampeas
September 13, 2005
Ariel Sharon won't have much time to savor this week's expected plaudits at the United Nations for the Israeli withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. One word tops the Israeli prime minister's behind-the-scenes U.N. agenda: Iran.
Sharon's preoccupation at the launch of the 2005-2006 U.N. General Assembly will be the Islamic republic's potential to build nuclear weapons, Israeli officials said. Israel hopes to persuade board members of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog, to refer Iran to the Security Council for sanctions when the IAEA board meets Monday in Vienna.
"It's going to be a good session" because of the successful Gaza withdrawal, said one Israeli official, who spoke anonymously because Israel prefers to maintain a low profile when it comes to Iran. "But next week's meeting is on everyone's minds."
The entire Israeli political spectrum regards Iran and the bomb as a worst-case scenario. After all, Iran's president has spoken publicly of attaining nuclear weapons so that Iran can annihilate the Jewish state, even if millions of Iranians are killed in an Israeli counterstrike.
Israel long has had the Bush administration as a powerful ally in pressing the international community to force sanctions on the Iranians, but three developments in recent weeks have dramatically aided Israel's case:
On Aug. 10, Iran broke the IAEA inspectors' seals on a uranium-enrichment plant after rejecting a compromise solution from the European Union that would have granted Iran political and economic incentives and allowed it to continue a civilian nuclear program.
Israel never favored such dangling-carrot gestures, saying sticks -- particularly economic sanctions -- were more likely to be effective.
Iran continues to insist that its nuclear program is intended for peaceful energy purposes, though its huge cache of oil and its own past pronouncements suggest otherwise. The election this summer of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a hard-line Islamist widely seen as forced through by the country's powerful clerics, doesn't help matters.
A Sept. 2 report from IAEA director Mohammed ElBaradei -- otherwise known for his cautious language when it comes to nuclear violators -- catalogs in 15 pages Iran's systematic efforts since 1985 to cover up its attempts to achieve nuclear weapons, concluding with unusually tough language: "In view of the fact that the Agency is not yet in a position to clarify some of the important outstanding issues after two and a half years of intensive inspections and investigation, Iran's full transparency is indispensable and overdue."
The European Union -- particularly the trio of Britain, Germany, and France that had been negotiating with Iran -- is off the fence and now actively advocates sanctions.
"German high-level diplomats are traveling around the globe to IAEA board members with the aim to gain their support to transfer the issue of Iran to the attention of the Security Council," Martina Nibbeling-Wriessnig, the spokeswoman for the German Embassy in Washington, told JTA.
It's none too soon for Israel, where intelligence officials believe Iran is less than a year away from knowing how to put a nuclear bomb together. There's generally a two-year gap between know-how and production, which would forecast a bomb by as early as 2008 if Israel is correct.
Other nations' intelligence agencies are slightly more sanguine, suggesting an Iranian nuclear bomb could be as far off as 2015, but pro-Israel lobbyists -- who have made Iran their No. 1 priority in recent years -- say the timeline is less important than containing a rejectionist, anti-Western regime.
"Iran is approaching the point of no return," said Josh Block, a spokesman for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. "In order to slow their progress and prevent them from getting the nuclear bomb, you need a united international community making good on its threats of economic and political isolation. Without that kind of serious application of will, Iran will continue to flaunt, embarrass and ignore international community demands that they end their nuclear program."
President Bush made clear again Tuesday that he believes the matter is a high priority.
"It is very important for the world to understand that Iran with a nuclear weapon will be incredibly destabilizing," he said in remarks before a meeting with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani. "We must work together to prevent them from having the wherewithal to develop a nuclear weapon."
No one is optimistic. There are 35 IAEA board members, and some of them have reasons of their own to keep the United Nations out of the nuclear-monitoring business. Israel, the United States and European nations are expected to work especially hard next week on persuading India -- a country that itself defied nuclear protocol -- to back Iran's isolation.
Even if the IAEA refers the matter to the Security Council, chances are still slim that sanctions will be forthcoming anytime soon. Russia -- another country that chafes at nuclear protocols -- has declared that it believes Iran is still in compliance with the nuclear nonproliferation treaty, and China is believed to have the same view. Both countries have Security Council vetoes.
Bush said he would raise the matter specifically with the Russian and Chinese leaders when he meets with them in coming days.
Complicating matters is Israel's own reported nuclear-weapons capacity, believed to number close to 200 warheads. The Israeli government has never confirmed that Israel has nuclear weapons, though Vice Prime Minister Shimon Peres confirmed it in a speech to visiting American Jewish leaders in 2003, when he was not in government.
Bush suggested that whatever the outcome, the United States and its allies are still willing to find a way out of the impasse.
"It's a right of a government to want to have a civilian nuclear program," he said. "But there ought to be guidelines in which they be allowed to have that civilian nuclear program. And one such guideline would be in such a way that they don't gain the expertise necessary to be able to enrich" uranium.