msnbc.com news services
updated 3/15/2006 10:54:04 PM ET 2006-03-16T03:54:04

The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, Wednesday compared the threat from Iran’s nuclear programs to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.

“Just like Sept. 11, only with nuclear weapons this time, that’s the threat. I think that is the threat,” Bolton told ABC News’ Nightline. “I think it’s just facing reality. It’s not a happy reality, but it’s reality and if you don’t deal with it, it will become even more unpleasant.”

Bolton ratcheted up the rhetoric as the five veto-holding members of the U.N. Security Council failed again to reach agreement on how to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions after a fifth round of negotiations.

Russia and China are resisting proposals from Britain, France and the United States for a council statement that would express “serious concern” about Iran’s nuclear program and asks it to comply with demands from the International Atomic Energy Agency. The statement does not threaten sanctions.

At the same time foreign ministry officials from the five powers and Germany are considering meeting in New York on Monday to review strategy, diplomats said. Russia had previously proposed such talks in Vienna, seat of the IAEA.

Council debate Thursday
The negotiations shift to the full Security Council Thursday when all 15 of its members are to meet for a second time to discuss the draft drawn up by France and Britain.

The draft statement also calls on Iran “to re-establish full and sustained suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development” that the IAEA would verify.

It asks Iran to reconsider building a heavy-water nuclear reactor in Arak, which is more suitable for producing fuel for nuclear weapons than a light-water reactor.

A council statement needs to be approved by all 15 members, while a resolution requires nine votes in favor and no veto from any of the permanent members. If the impasse continues, the West could try to force Russia and China into the uncomfortable position of having to consider a resolution.

“Whether it is a statement or a resolution we haven’t decided,” Bolton said. “We’re trying to hold the permanent five together first but reality is reality and time is an important factor, given that the Iranians continue to progress toward overcoming their technological difficulties in enriching uranium.”

House panel votes for sanctions
Bolton’s statements came as a Republican-controlled House panel, ignoring White House objections, overwhelmingly approved legislation Wednesday to tighten sanctions against Iran.

The 37-3 vote of the House International Relations Committee reflected deep hostility toward Iran’s Islamic regime and the specter that Tehran may some day acquire nuclear weapons.

Among other provisions, the legislation would end U.S. economic aid to any country that helped Iran by investing in its energy sector or permitted a private entity to carry out such investment.

The administration said it could not support the legislation, contending that it would limit the flexibility needed to pursue a diplomatic solution to the stalemate over Iran’s nuclear program.

Committee chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., voted for the bill even though he said he had reservations about provisions that threaten to punish allies that do business with Iran. He called that approach “divisive.”

Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., the committee’s ranking Democrat, said persuasion won’t work with Iran. “We can only hope to inflict such severe economic pain on Tehran that it would starve the leadership of the resources they need to fund a costly nuclear program,” he said.

More than 350 of the House’s 435 members are said to support the bill.

Rice calls for negotiation
In Sydney, Australia, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Thursday once again called on Iran to negotiate over its nuclear program, while also calling the country a central banker for terrorism.

Rice was speaking after meeting her Australian counterpart Alexander Downer for talks that covered topics including Iraq, Iran's nuclear ambitions, Indonesia's development and the recent nuclear deal between Washington and India.

Rice also said that Iraq’s political transition will take a “couple years,” acknowledging the process that is currently stalled will not move swiftly.

“I think that there is a very good chance that the Iraqi people, with the support of their coalition partners, will build a good foundation, a political foundation, for a stable and secure Iraq over the next couple years,” Rice said. “This is a difficult task.”

She added, “We should express confidence in them because every time they have been confronted with a challenge,” Iraqis have risen to the occasion.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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