US on IAEA report: 'We won't rule anything out, or in'

Russia would veto new measures in UNSC; Sarkozy tells WJC delegation Israel has no better security partner than France when it comes to Iran.

Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor 311 Reu (photo credit: Raheb Homavandi / Reuters)
Iran's Bushehr nuclear reactor 311 Reu
(photo credit: Raheb Homavandi / Reuters)
The United States broke its relative silence on the IAEA report during a Wednesday State Department press briefing.
State Department Spokesman Mark Toner said Washington would “consult [with allies and partners] and look at ways to impose additional pressure on Iran.”
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In the most critical and damning report of Iran’s nuclear program to date, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said Tuesday the Islamic Republic was working to develop a nuclear-weapon design and was conducting extensive research and tests that could only be relevant for such a weapon.
Although Toner did not join in explicit European calls for increased sanctions, he did say that “a range of options” was available.
“I don’t want to rule anything out, or anything in,” Toner continued.
The spokesman said the report, which was officially distributed to IAEA member states, contains “very serious allegations, serious charges – and it’s incumbent on Iran to at last engage with the IAEA in a credible and transparent manner to address these concerns.”
The US has remained close-lipped on the report, arguing it is considered a classified document, but confirming Iran will be an agenda item at a meeting of the IAEA Board of Governors scheduled for November 18.
Western powers called Wednesday for expanded sanctions against Iran over a UN watchdog report that it has worked to design atomic bombs.
But both China and Russia came down on the side of Iran, with veto-wielder Russia indicating it would block new measures at the UN Security Council.
French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe said “convening of the UN Security Council is called for.”
Pressure must be intensified, he told RFI radio, after years of Iranian defiance of UN resolutions demanding it halt uranium enrichment, which can yield nuclear fuel for power stations or weapons.
“If Iran refuses to conform to the demands of the international community and refuses any serious cooperation, we stand ready to adopt, with other willing countries, sanctions on an unprecedented scale,” Juppe said.
During a 90-minute meeting he held with the World Jewish Congress at the Elysée Palace in Paris, French President Nicolas Sarkozy promised to stand with Israel against Iran, according to sources from the gathering who spoke with The Jerusalem Post.
“Israel has no better security partner than France when it comes to Iran,” Sarkozy assured the Jewish leaders, according to the sources.
The head of the World Jewish Congress, Ronald S. Lauder, asked Sarkozy to push for unprecedented sanctions against the Iranian regime to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons.
Sarkozy responded positively to Lauder, the sources said.
France has always taken a tough stance against Iran’s nuclear program and favors “seriously ratcheting up sanctions” against the country, Sarkozy said, according to the sources.
Diplomacy is the best way to avert a nuclear Iran, he said, but at the same time he implied a military option was on the table. He was very vague about France’s position with regard to a military option, but had a clear reaction to media reports that Israel might independently strike Iran’s nuclear facilities.
The French leader said it would be a mistake for Israel to unilaterally attempt a military strike against Iran. Such a strike “would be disastrous,” Sarkozy said.
Britain said the standoff was entering a more dangerous phase and the risk of conflict would increase if Iran does not negotiate.
The Security Council has already imposed four rounds of sanctions on Tehran since 2006 over its nuclear program, which Western countries suspect is being used to develop weapons, but Iran says is purely peaceful.
There has been concern that if world powers cannot close ranks on isolating Iran to nudge it into serious talks, then Israel will attack it, precipitating a Middle East conflict.
Israel decided following the publication of the report to tone down its diplomatic rhetoric on Iran.
“The IAEA report corroborates the position of the international community, and of Israel, that Iran is developing nuclear weapons,” the Prime Minister’s Office said in a short statement.
“The significance of the report is that the international community must bring about the cessation of Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons, which endangers the peace of the world and of the Middle East.”
Russia on Wednesday vehemently criticized the IAEA report, saying it contained no new evidence and was being used to undercut efforts to reach a diplomatic solution.
Sharpening opposition to any new sanctions against Iran in the Security Council, where Russia has veto power, senior diplomats said further punitive measures would be “destructive” and urged a revival of talks between Tehran and global powers.
The Russian remarks came during a visit by a senior Iranian official for talks on the program, which Tehran says is peaceful but the US and its allies fear is aimed at developing the capability to build atomic weapons.
“According to our initial evaluations, there is no fundamentally new information in the report,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “We are talking about a compilation of known facts, given a politicized tone,” it said – adding that interpretations of the report brought to mind the use of faulty intelligence to seek support for the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.
Earlier, in a barrage of Russian comments on Iran, Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov said any new sanctions “will be seen in the international community as an instrument for regime change in Tehran,” Interfax reported. “That approach is unacceptable to us, and the Russian side does not intend to consider such proposals.”
Russia’s pointman for Iran diplomacy, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov, said Moscow opposed “strengthening sanctions pressure on Iran” and is trying to bring other nations in line with that stance, Itar-Tass reported.
“We are showing them the faulty and destructive nature of that policy,” Ryabkov said.
China, which like Russia signed up to limited UN sanctions, also rebuffed Western proposals for measures that could seriously curtail energy and trade ties with the Islamic Republic.
Iran is the third-largest supplier of crude oil to China, and overall bilateral trade between the two grew by 58 percent in the first nine months of 2011, according to Beijing data.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hong Lei said China was studying the IAEA report and reiterated a call to resolve the row through talks. In a commentary, China’s official Xinhua news agency said the UN watchdog still “lacks a smoking gun.”
“There are no witnesses or physical evidence to prove that Iran is making nuclear weapons,” it said. “In dealing with the Iran nuclear issue, it is extremely dangerous to rely on suspicions, and the destructive consequences of any armed action would endure for a long time.”
When a huge thunderstorm rattled windows across Tehran late on Sunday, some of the Iranian capital’s residents awoke thinking Israel was finally making good on its threat to attack.
But a day after the IAEA report, ordinary Iranians were sanguine and said, if anything, they feared tougher sanctions more than a possible war.
“What I’m worrying about is more sanctions on airlines,” said Nahal, a 26-year-old office manager in Tehran.
A US measure that prevents Iran importing airplanes or spare parts is one of the more talked-about of the growing range of sanctions it faces. Iranians say it has unfairly hit civilians by contributing to air crashes and a general fear about airline safety, particularly on domestic flights.
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