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Official: U.S. gaining support for Iran sanctions

A top U.S. diplomat said Wednesday that most of the U.N. Security Council’s permanent members and the Group of Eight support possible sanctions against Iran in the nuclear dispute.
Nicholas Burns
U.S. Under Secretary of State Nicholas Burns said in Moscow on Wednesday that more countries support possible sanctions against Iran because of its controversial nuclear program.Mikhail Metzel / STF
/ Source: The Associated Press

A top U.S. diplomat said Wednesday that most of the U.N. Security Council’s permanent members and the Group of Eight support possible sanctions against Iran in the dispute over that country’s nuclear program.

Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns also said the United States has not given up on efforts to resolve the dispute through diplomacy. Earlier this week, President Bush said “all options are on the table” — including the military option — to prevent Iran from developing atomic weapons.

“Nearly every country is considering some sort of sanctions and that’s new,” Burns told reporters after two days of meetings in Moscow.

He declined to specify which countries support possible sanctions. Russia and China, both of which are permanent Security Council members, are seen as the most likely to resist sanctions.

“What is new is a greater sense of urgency given what the Iranians did last week,” Burns said, referring to Iran’s announcement that it had succeeded in enriching uranium.

Enriched uranium can be used to produce both nuclear energy and nuclear weapons. Tehran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but the United States and some of its allies suspect Iran is trying to develop weapons.

'Focused on diplomacy'
“Obviously, the United States always keeps all options on the table ... but we’re focused on diplomacy,” he said.

Earlier, Russia’s foreign minister said the international community is demanding that Iran take “urgent and constructive steps” — including halting uranium enrichment — to ease concerns about its nuclear program.

Sergey Lavrov acknowledged that the latest talks among world powers brought no decision on how to proceed after Iran’s hard-line president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, announced last week that his country “joined the club of nuclear countries.”

Diplomats from the five permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany met Tuesday in Moscow.

Iran must heed calls “to suspend work linked to uranium enrichment,” Lavrov said. “All participants in the meeting agreed that urgent and constructive steps are demanded of Iran.”

Iran’s official Islamic Republic News Agency later reported that top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani flew to Russia for talks with European officials. Russia’s Foreign Ministry and Security Council could not immediately confirm the visit, and a press official at the Iranian Embassy, Shervin Musavi, said he was unaware of a visit.

Officials from the French, British and German embassies in Moscow either declined to comment or did not answer phone calls.

Lavrov said no decisions had been expected during Tuesday’s meeting because the nations were waiting for a report from International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei on Iran’s nuclear program later this month. He said Russia wants the report to be reviewed by the IAEA board before it goes to the Security Council, which has the power to impose economic and political sanctions on Iran.

Russia has repeatedly stressed that the Vienna, Austria-based IAEA is the best forum for discussions on the Iranian program.

Lavrov’s comments appeared blunter than previous ones and appeared to reflect increasing Russian frustration with Iranian intransigence.

Official: Russia, China still opposed to U.S. plan
But a European official familiar with the Iran issue told The Associated Press in Vienna, Austria, that initial read-outs of the Moscow meeting showed Russia and China still opposed U.S.-led attempts to start work on a Security Council resolution that would obligate Iran to freeze uranium enrichment and meet other international demands — or face the possibility of military action.

The official requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks.

The United States and Britain say that if Iran does not comply with the Security Council’s April 28 deadline for Tehran to stop enrichment, they will seek a resolution making the demand compulsory.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said he doubted that Tehran would meet that deadline.

“We are working on the basis that Iran will not meet the proposals from the Security Council within the 30-day deadline,” he told British Broadcasting Corp. Radio in an interview from Saudi Arabia.

In London, Prime Minister Tony Blair said Britain and its allies were seeking a diplomatic solution over Iran and “nobody is talking about military invasion.” But he insisted that firm action was needed.

“I do not think it is time to send a message of weakness” because Iran’s president has called for Israel to be “wiped off the map” and there has been at least tacit acceptance by Tehran “for young people signing up to be suicide bombers directed at U.S., U.K. and Israeli targets,” Blair said in the House of Commons.

Russia and China, which have strong economic ties to Iran, have opposed punitive measures. Bush said he intends to ask Chinese President Hu Jintao to step up pressure on Iran when they meet in Washington on Thursday.