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Washington Post
09-03-06, 15:33
Iran Threatens U.S. With 'Harm and Pain'
Envoy Warns Against U.N. Sanctions

By Molly Moore and Colum Lynch
Washington Post Foreign Service
Thursday, March 9, 2006; A12

VIENNA, March 8 -- Iran on Wednesday threatened the United States with "harm and pain" if the U.N. Security Council imposes sanctions on the Islamic republic over its nuclear program. Its statement came just before ambassadors to the council began discussing possible action concerning Iran.

"The United States may have the power to cause harm and pain, but it is also susceptible to harm and pain," Javad Vaeidi, head of the Iranian delegation to the International Atomic Energy Agency, told the agency's board during an all-day, closed-door meeting here. "So if the United States wishes to choose that path, let the ball roll."

Vaeidi did not elaborate on steps Iran might take against the United States. Iran's oil minister, Kazem Vaziri Hamaneh, said Wednesday that Iran would not curtail oil exports as a response to developments in the Security Council, but some analysts consider that to be a possibility.

Responding to Vaeidi's remarks, White House press secretary Scott McClellan told reporters in New Orleans that "provocative statements and actions only further isolate Iran from the rest of the world." Vice President Cheney said on Tuesday that Iran would face "meaningful consequences" if it did not back down.

The IAEA board meeting cleared the way for the Security Council to begin consideration of Iran's nuclear program, a major escalation in international pressure on the country. As a first step, the president of the council will likely call for Iran to stop enriching uranium.

The head of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei, told reporters in Vienna that "we need coolheaded approaches." He called on factions to "lower the rhetoric."

"We need to engage in political dialogue," ElBaradei said. "We need to help Iran to get themselves out of the hole they're in today."

His tone was far more sober than on Monday, when he opened the IAEA meeting expressing optimism for a negotiated agreement with Iran, perhaps within the week.

The debate over Iran's nuclear energy program -- which the United States and some European countries allege is a cover for an effort to develop nuclear weapons -- now enters a new, potentially more volatile political phase. The Security Council has the authority to order sanctions or other action against Iran.

After the meeting in Vienna, ElBaradei forwarded to the Security Council president, Cesar Mayoral of Argentina, his latest report on Iran's nuclear activities.

It said inspectors from the agency have "not seen indications of diversion of nuclear material to nuclear weapons or other explosive devices. . . . Regrettably, however, after three years of intensive verification, there remain uncertainties with regard to both the scope and the nature of Iran's nuclear program."

Ambassadors from the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain, the five permanent members of the council, subsequently met to discuss council reaction.

Following that meeting, U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton urged the council "to build the international pressure on Iran" to adhere to its treaty obligations "and to give up the pursuit of nuclear weapons that they have been carrying on for nearly 20 years."

Britain's U.N. ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry, said his government was "not contemplating sanctions at the moment." The French U.N. ambassador, Jean-Marc de La Sabliere, said the council "action will be gradual and reversible" if Iran suspends its uranium enrichment activities.

For the past three years, the United States and the European Union have been pressuring Iran to provide more details about its nuclear program and refrain from any activities that could further the development of weapons. The IAEA has joined in, saying that Iran is not living up to its obligations as a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

The agency's 35-member board voted last month to report concerns over Iran's nuclear program to the Security Council. The council deferred debate on the issue for a month to give Iran a chance to stop enriching uranium and to allow IAEA inspectors greater access to nuclear scientists and documents in the country.

Instead, all sides in the debate toughened their rhetoric over the past month. A last-minute Russian proposal to allow Iran to engage in small-scale enrichment research as a face-saving measure was retracted under pressure from the United States.

The United States and the E.U. are pushing the Security Council for a firm response toward Iran if it continues its enrichment program. But some of Iran's major trading partners, including Russia and China and Iran's Arab neighbors, advocate a slower, more cautious approach.

On Wednesday, following a meeting in New York with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters that threats of force or economic sanctions against Iran were counterproductive. He said the debate over punitive measures reminded him of the international dispute leading up to the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

"That looks so deja vu," Lavrov said. "I don't believe that we should engage in something which might become a self-fulfilling prophecy. We are convinced that there is no military solution to this crisis."

He added, "We should act in a way that would not risk losing the IAEA capacity and possibility to continue to work in Iran, to continue to clarify those questions which relate to the past Iranian nuclear program."

Even though both Iranian and U.S. officials ratcheted up their criticism of each other, they also made clear that diplomacy remains the preferred choice for resolving the dispute. "We have not abandoned hopes for a diplomatic solution," said Greg Schulte, the U.S. representative to the IAEA. "This new phase of diplomacy is intended more forcefully to convince Iran to turn back from its nuclear weapons program."

And although Vaeidi, the Iranian representative, described Washington as "warmongering," he said, "We keep the doors open for negotiation and resolving the issue."

Lynch reported from the United Nations.

© 2006 The Washington Post Company