WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Bush administration is urging Britain, France and Germany to “hold firm” against any new deals ahead of a meeting on Iran’s nuclear program, U.S. officials said on Wednesday.
They also told Reuters that as Washington considers ways to increase pressure on Tehran, they do not see imposing sanctions as an immediate goal.
The latter comment suggests an attempt by Washington to dampen international resistance to bringing the controversial nuclear issue before the U.N. Security Council.
Britain, France and Germany are due to meet in Paris on Thursday with Iranian officials in an effort to persuade Tehran to end activities that Washington and the Europeans believe are aimed at producing nuclear weapons.
U.S. officials with access to intelligence estimates say Iran can achieve that goal in three to five years. Iran insists its program is peaceful.
A push by the Europeans last October won promises that Iran would suspend uranium enrichment and allow snap inspections of nuclear facilities by international monitors.
But Tehran, angered by a tough resolution sponsored by the three states last month rebuking it for poor cooperation with U.N. inspectors, said it would resume manufacture and assembly of uranium enrichment centrifuges, a key nuclear weapons process.
“The Iranians want to drive a wedge between the Europeans and the United States and to drag this process out as long as they can in order to do what they want to do in terms of developing a nuclear capability,” a senior U.S. official said.
“What we’ve been telling the EU three is to hold firm and not cut any deals with the Iranians,” he said.
U.S. officials said the Europeans, bruised by Iran’s broken promises, should realize Tehran is using negotiations as a delaying tactic while it accelerates its nuclear program.
The administration has been agitating to bring Iran before the U.N. Security Council, which can impose sanctions on violators of the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty.
Iran has fiercely resisted the move.
So have key U.S. allies and Security Council members, who instead have kept the matter before the U.N. nuclear watchdog — the International Atomic Energy Agency — as they tried to persuade Tehran to adhere to NPT and IAEA commitments.
Whether the U.S. effort advances depends in part on the European-Iran meeting in Paris.
U.S. officials said a showdown vote on elevating the nuclear issue to the United Nations may not come until November, rather than September as some have suggested.
An IAEA report expected in August is unlikely to contain revelations that would convince the world of an imminent danger from Iran, they said.
Barring that, “the (Security Council’s) first reaction is not necessarily sanctions,” the senior official said.
The council could give the IAEA more powers to probe Iran’s program or have its chairman issue a rebuking statement.
Another senior official said that even if Iran was put before the council, there would be no quick vote on using force or other tough action.
Still, this move would “change the entire global dynamic (by putting Iran) at center stage in the U.N. body charged with the maintenance of international peace and security,” he said.
He said major pressure could be brought to bear if Russia, which is building Iran’s nuclear plant at Bushehr but has delayed delivering the facility’s fuel, scuttled the deal.
Organizing a boycott of Iran’s vital oil industry is a “step down the road” but newly improved ties with Libya and Iraq raise the possibility both countries will soon be producing more oil and prove Iran no longer has an “economic whiphand” in this regard, he said.