iran nuke plant 298.88.
(photo credit: AP)
The US is willing to give another chance for Russian diplomacy and will not insist on referring the Iranian nuclear issue to the UN Security Council in the meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) board of governors slated to take place Thursday in Vienna.
Intense diplomatic efforts led by the EU-3 countries - France, Germany and Britain - have not yet yielded any results in either convincing Iran to halt its nuclear project or in garnering support for referring the issue to the Security Council.
According to diplomatic sources in Washington, the major obstacle for reaching a consensus on referring the case to the UN is Russia, which is engaged in its own diplomatic effort to reach an understanding with the Iranians. China, India and South Africa are also opposed to referring Iran to the Security Council.
A referral from the IAEA to the UN Security Council is significant because the UN has tools that can be used to compel Iran into cooperating with the international community. These tools include sanctions and even the threat of military action.
Though the US and the EU-3 members support immediate referral to the UN, the American administration has agreed to postpone the decision and give a second chance to Russian diplomacy.
The latest Russian suggestion was to allow Iran to enrich Uranium only if the enrichment process is done in Russia. This would ensure that the process is used only for energy production - as Iran claims it intends to do - and would not enable the Iranians to use the process for military applications. Iran had rejected the Russian offer but the US did not oppose it and is willing to see the negotiations through on this proposal.
State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Tuesday that the US would support any effort that will get Iran back on the negotiation track. "The point of what we're trying to do in support of the EU-3 and the Russians and what I believe that they would tell you they're trying to accomplish is to get Iran back to the negotiating table, to come to an agreement whereby they are able to... develop peaceful nuclear energy, as they say is their right under the NPT, but yet reassure the world that they will not use that development of peaceful nuclear energy in order to obtain a nuclear weapon."
According to diplomatic sources, the US does not put much hope in the success of these negotiations, but it does not want to be perceived as the side that blocked diplomatic efforts.
If, as expected, the IAEA board of governors does not decide Thursday on referring Iran to the UN, the next chance of doing so will be only next March, when the board meets again.
Israel, though not a direct side in the negotiations, would like to see a speedy referral process, in order to stop the Iranian actions as soon as possible.
Jeremy Issacharoff, Israel's deputy chief of Mission in Washington and one of the leading Israeli experts on the issue of nuclear proliferation, said last week that moving the Iran issue to the UN would "sharpen the options facing Iran - either refuse to cooperate and become a rouge state or agree to the conditions and be part of the international community."
In a conference organized by the Israel Project in Washington, Issacharoff said that Iran has showed in the past that it caves under international pressure and that is why diplomatic action is needed urgently.
According to reports, Iran has renewed its activity in converting Uranium and has lately begun to process another 50 tons of "yellowcake" into UF-6, which is used in military applications.
At the same time, the Iranians have refrained from resuming work in their Uranium enrichment plant in Natanz, an act that would be seen by the international community as a direct provocation.
According to Issacharoff, an Iranian breakthrough towards achieving a nuclear bomb can be seen as early as mid 2007. "This is why it is very urgent to do things today on the diplomatic level," he added.
While the US administration is willing to postpone the UN referral and allow a few more months for diplomacy, Congress is already working on resolutions that would tighten sanctions against Iran.
The Iran Freedom Support Act that is intended to stop foreign money from reaching Iran, has already gained the support of 332 members of the House of Representatives. A similar bill in Senate has 38 cosponsors.