WASHINGTON (Sep. 11)
Iran is the bad neighbor in the Middle East, Israel and the world powers agree — but differences of opinion persist over how to stop its nuclear program. Diplomatic sources say Russia has been the main stumbling block in meetings last week and this week among the six major powers that are dealing with Iran after it refused to suspend uranium enrichment. In addition to Russia, they are the United States, China, Britain, France and Germany.
All of the countries, except Germany, wield vetoes on the U.N. Security Council, where the United States is seeking sanctions against Iran.
The Europeans are making a final bid in the Security Council to talk Iran down from its insistence on developing the technology to enrich uranium. The most recent report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, says Iran is closer than ever to weaponizing uranium, according to media reports.
The IAEA document was not made available for publication when it was released to Security Council members Aug. 31, but reports have said inspectors found traces of uranium enriched to levels that leave little doubt that Iran is trying to build a weapon, despite Iran’s insistence that its nuclear program is peaceful.
IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei on Monday was due to brief the 35 nations that make up the agency’s board. A flurry of diplomatic activity had sparked speculation that Iran had blinked at the last minute and was ready to suspend enrichment for two months, but those reports could not be confirmed.
Going into the IAEA briefing, ElBaradei said he still hoped the matter could be worked out through diplomacy.
But John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said the Bush administration already was looking ahead to the next step: punitive actions against Iran with or without the Security Council. Other officials have given the Security Council until Sept. 18 — the day the U.N. General Assembly opens — to come up with a draft sanctions resolution.
“We won’t only seek sanctions through the Security Council, we will use other steps, other economic activities, we will work with other countries outside the Security Council as well,” Bolton told the United Jewish Communities’ Lion of Judah conference Sunday. “The Europeans have again asked us if we would give them another opportunity, they are engaged in that activity as we speak.”
But Bolton called that a “stalling technique” and warned that an end to Iran’s nuclear weapons program was inevitable.
“We will certainly seek it through the Security Council, but if we fail to achieve it through the Security Council we will seek it and we will find it in other ways,” he said.
The suggestion of military action to stop Iran from going nuclear — something Bush administration officials have hinted at since the beginning of this year — earns approval from Israel, which considers a nuclear Iran a mortal threat.
Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of the opposition Likud Party, said he doubted that things would ever reach the point of a military confrontation, but said it was important not to take that option off the table.
“As long as Iran understands there is an option, there will be no need to use it,” Netanyahu said in Washington last week, where he met with a delegation of about a dozen U.S. senators and Vice President Dick Cheney.
He said the senators pressed him hardest on how to deal with the dangers posed by Iran in the wake of an Iraq war that proved far less successful than the Bush administration had anticipated, and that was launched on false expectations that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
Netanyahu said the difference was that prewar intelligence on Iraq was never more than an educated guess, while the intelligence on Iran is a sure thing.
“Here we’re not guessing, we know,” he said. “And what we know, Americans know.”
Netanyahu was in Washington as an emissary of Israel’s government and made representations on behalf of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a holdover of the solidarity that most political parties showed during this summer’s war against Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Israel’s foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, is expected to reinforce Israel’s arguments for toughness against Iran when she arrives Wednesday for talks with Condoleezza Rice, the U.S. secretary of state and Stephen Hadley, the White House’s national security adviser.
Israel’s friends in Congress are ready to reinforce America’s and Israel’s hands through the Iran Freedom Act, legislation that would broaden existing sanctions against Iran to include third parties that deal with the country.
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed the legislation, and Yleem Poblete, chief of staff for the House’s Middle East subcommittee, told JTA that getting the bill through the Senate before Congress breaks next month for midterm elections is a priority. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), who chairs the subcommittee, sponsored the original legislation.
Livni is to continue to New York over the weekend, where she will attend the General Assembly opening. Iran’s president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has discounted speculation that Iran will suspend uranium enrichment, is to address the assembly next Tuesday.