US envoy: Iran won't give up enrichment

Representative to IAEA skeptical that diplomacy will curb Iran's nuclear race; says Ahmadinejad "determined."

schulte iran 224.88 (photo credit: AP [file])
schulte iran 224.88
(photo credit: AP [file])
The United States' representative to the UN's nuclear watchdog has expressed pessimism that international efforts to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions would succeed. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad "is quite prepared, as is the rest of the leadership, to ignore the various security council resolutions that require Iran to suspend these activities," acknowledged Greg Schulte, US representative to the US International Atomic Energy Agency during an appearance at the Woodrow Wilson Center here on Monday. "We are dealing with a regime that is very determined," Schulte said, noting that Iran had not halted uranium enrichment even though it already had access to nuclear energy through the Bushehr reactor Russia was administering in the country. "Even though there is no obvious near-term requirement for uranium enrichment, they have made this an issue of national pride and perhaps even regime legitimacy. And so convincing them through our dual-track strategy to take a different approach is going to be tough," he said. Referring to this strategy of sanctioning Iran while at the same time offering incentives should the Islamic Republic shift gears, he still assessed that "the best we can do if we want to be successful in getting a diplomatic solution, which is our goal, is to sustain the strategy." The US has been working with the other members of the US Security Council and Germany on a sanctions regime that has so far prompted three Security Council resolutions but has not caused Iran to fulfill the international demand that it halt uranium enrichment. The US has sought further sanctions and faster implementation - goals shared by Israel, which is concerned about Iran's progress - but Schulte said the Security Council members saw eye to eye. "The amount of consensus I see here between the US, Europe, Russia and China is actually quite astounding. That is the one thing that gives me some hope that perhaps we can be successful," he said. Schulte is visiting from IAEA headquarters in Vienna to brief US National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ahead of the publication of a report by IAEA Director-General Mohammed Elbaradei on Iran's nuclear activity, before the June 2-6 meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors. "The prognosis for a positive report from the director-general is not good," Schulte noted. Part of the threat posed by Iran, he said, was that if it covertly continued to enrich uranium and otherwise produced the components of a nuclear weapons program, its progress could once again go undetected, as a recent US National Intelligence Report found had happened in the early part of the decade. "Our concern is that Iran could resume this specific weapons-related work and the IAEA might not even catch it," he explained. Schulte did seem to imply some US flexibility on the demand that Iran halt its enrichment activities before it could hold direct talks with the Americans, indicating that if the Europeans, who are in touch with the Iranians, find a serious Iranian desire for an enrichment freeze, the US "could help them get there." The US has been criticized for failing to talk directly to the Iranians, though the Bush administration has gradually loosened some of its restrictions, sanctioning the EU talks, agreeing to talk to Iran about Iraq and offering to speak with the Islamic Repulic should it halt enrichment. Schulte also said addressing the Iranian nuclear issue was key to laying the groundwork for a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians - since the latter's opposition groups include radicals aided by Iran - and the long-term goal of a nuclear-free Middle East. "We support the vision of many countries, of a Middle East free of weapons of mass destruction. But I think we're very realistic when we look at that vision," he said. "We have to be conscious that if we're going to achieve a Middle East free of nuclear weapons, including Israel, that we're going to have to have something that looks like a comprehensive peace settlement, that leaves countries feeling secure within their own borders."