(photo credit: AP [file])
Israeli officials Thursday night urged "crisper" and "faster" moves to sanction Iran after a UN report found the Islamic Republic had expanded its program to obtain nuclear weapons.
The officials welcomed the Bush administration's stated interest in pressing for expanded sanctions, but expressed mounting concern over the slow pace of international action.
"I don't think we've got endless amounts of time to deal with this problem. The message has to be much crisper and sooner," said a senior Israeli source in Washington. "This is the time that these things have to be dealt with."
The US has indicated that new sanctions will likely follow from Iran's defiance of a unanimous Security Council resolution passed in December demanding that it halt uranium enrichment and other activity suspected of furthering a nuclear weapons program.
"Iran has not suspended its enrichment-related activities," said the International Atomic Energy Agency report issued Thursday as the 60-day window on Iranian compliance with the Security Council resolution expired. In fact, the report found that nuclear efforts had been expanded.
The report detailed recent developments showing Teheran expanding its enrichment efforts - setting up nearly 1,000 uranium-spinning centrifuges in and above an underground bunker and bringing nearly nine tons of the gaseous feedstock into the facility at Natanz in preparation for enrichment. It said Iranian officials had informed the UN agency that they would expand centrifuge installations to have close to 3,000 ready by May.
The IAEA report noted Iran's continued building of both the Arak reactor and heavy water production plant - in defiance of the Security Council.
The six-page report also said that a lack of Iranian cooperation meant agency experts remain unable to progress with efforts "to verify fully the past development of Iran's nuclear program."
The current sanctions, barring trade in sensitive nuclear materials and freezing assets of top Iranian officials and institutions linked to the nuclear program, could be beefed up to include wider economic pressures and arms limitations, according to those knowledgeable on the issue. The State Department has declined to provide specifics.
Getting the additional measures in a unanimous Security Council resolution as was passed on December 23, however, requires potentially long and complicated discussions with the Russians, Chinese and Europeans, some of whom reportedly want to explore openings with Iran.
Still, according to the Israeli assessment, "in general terms, the Europeans are still there."
"There may be different viewpoints on how to go, but people are pretty much in the same ballpark. They are considering other measures that could be incorporated with the resolution," said one Washington-based Israeli source. "There's a clear desire to get a second resolution, to get it on track and get it passed to send a strong and clear message to Teheran."
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking in Berlin Thursday, said that US, European and Russian diplomats all want Iran back at the bargaining table.
"We reconfirmed we will use available channels and the Security Council to try to achieve that goal," she said. Meeting with American Jewish leaders earlier in the month, Rice told them that the Bush administration preferred a steady increase in pressure rather than drastic moves.
France on Thursday emphasized its support for a unified stand on Iran, including continued demands that it halt its uranium enrichment program.
"Unity and firmness are, I repeat, the only effective instruments we have to get Iran to turn toward the international community, and away from isolation," French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told reporters Thursday. "We support a second resolution, to be passed unanimously by the Security Council, to continue sanctions." He also said the world should be open to dialogue with Iran - on the condition that the country suspends its uranium enrichment effort.
Douste-Blazy made similar comments Wednesday after talks with Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow. Lavrov, however, placed less emphasis on the need to be firm with Iran, suggesting the UN Security Council could face further wrangling over what steps to take next on Iran.
Iran, meanwhile, continued to express defiance. On Thursday it said that a suspension of its nuclear activities would go against its rights as well as international regulations, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.
"Teheran considers suspension contradictory to its own rights, the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and international regulations," the agency quoted Muhammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, as saying.
"Iran has been under sanctions for the last 30 years," Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Teheran's chief delegate to the IAEA, told The Associated Press, alluding to US trade embargoes and other punitive action since 1979, when the Islamic revolution toppled pro-Western ruler Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. "The language of threat only creates more solidarity of the Iranian nation to protect their inalienable rights."
Though Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the dispute "has to be decided peacefully with the United States," other top Iranian officials used harsher language, and none showed signs of compromise on halting enrichment and related activities.
"The enemy is making a big mistake if it thinks it can thwart the will of the Iranian nation to achieve the peaceful use of nuclear technology," Iranian state TV's Web site quoted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying Wednesday.
In the report, written by IAEA Director-General Mohamed ElBaradei, the agency also said that the Islamic republic continues building both a reactor that will use heavy water and a heavy water production plant - also in defiance of the Security Council.
The six-page report also said that agency experts remain "unable ... to make further progress in its efforts to verify fully the past development of Iran's nuclear program" due to lack of Iranian cooperation. That, too, put it in violation of the Security Council, which on December 23 told Teheran to "provide such access and cooperation as the agency requests to be able to verify ... all outstanding issues" within 60 days.
AP contributed to this report.