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Friday, September 01, 2006

Security Council Ends Iran Sessions - Not With a Bang but a Whimper

UNITED NATIONS — Expected to end the month of August with a bang, the divided Security Council concluded its meetings yesterday with a whimper, failing to mark the expiration of a deadline presented for Iran to freeze its nuclear-related activity and passing a resolution that fell short of assuring that international troops would be deployed immediately to stop genocide in Sudan's Darfur region.

Told by the Security Council to suspend all enrichment and reprocessing activities before yesterday, Iran instead stepped them up, while obstructing the work of inspectors who came to verify the suspension, according to a report presented to council members yesterday by the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

The director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed El-Baradei, wrote in yesterday's report to the council that his Vienna-based agency was "unable to make further progress" in confirming "the peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program."

Tehran is "not being forthcoming," the American U.N. ambassador, John Bolton, said after receiving the IAEA report. "From all that we can see in this report, it continues to pursue a nuclear weapons capability."

The State Department's point man on Iran's diplomacy, Nicholas Burns, traveled to Europe, where along with Britain, France, and Germany he contemplated presenting to the council a package of sanctions, starting with a sales ban on nuclear-related materials and leading to travel restrictions on top Iranian officials, as well as other economic sanctions.

But two veto-wielding members on the council, China and Russia, publicly opposed any meaningful sanctions. Russia, specifically, is expecting a lucrative deal on the Bushehr plant being built in Iraq. Several diplomats said yesterday that the council would not move on a sanction resolution prior to late September, when foreign ministers and heads of states gather in New York for the annual General Assembly's debate, if they made a moved of any sort, which was also possible.

Meanwhile, even some of America's allies might hesitate to apply tough measures. While deploring Iran's "unsatisfactory" response to the council's incentives offer, the French foreign minister, Philippe Douste-Blazy, said in a statement yesterday, "Priority must still be given to the path of dialogue."

On Sudan, meanwhile, the council decided, after weeks of negotiations, to establish a force of up to 17,300 military troops and up to 3,300 civilian police that would replace or absorb the existing contingency of 7,000 African Union observers in Darfur, whose mandate ends next month.

But the council resolution, which passed without the support of Russia, China, and the Arab representative on the council, Qatar – is conditional upon Khartoum's approval, stating that the council "invites the consent" of the government. So far, President al-Bashir has steadfastly refused to allow any U.N.-led force to enter Darfur.

According to Mr. Bolton, Sudan's consent is not necessary for Turtle Bay to begin planning the deployment of the new force. "We're not looking for billboards on the highway into Khartoum accepting the resolution," he said. "We'll be happy with acquiescence."

"No one can deploy without Sudan's consent," a U.N. spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told The New York Sun yesterday, adding that the department of peacekeeping operations has nevertheless been active in recruiting potential troop contributors.

Although the African Union has asked the U.N. to send troops to strengthen its presence in Darfur, another organization that includes Sudan as a member, the Arab League, has stood behind the Bashir government's opposition to foreign troops.

In Khartoum, the government-owned news agency SUNA quoted officials as saying, "The Sudanese people will not consent to any resolution that will violate its sovereignty." The leadership called on the Sudanese people to "strengthen further their cohesion and ranks, and prepare to face any development," the Associated Press reported.

Although last-minute changes were made to yesterday's council resolution, three powerful council members abstained, in a move expected to add fuel to Khartoum's defiance.

Similar defiance was displayed in Iran yesterday. Tehran "will never renounce peaceful nuclear energy and its absolute right," President Ahmadinejad said, apparently anticipating that Russia and China would not join an American-led drive to impose sanctions.

"We do not need unanimity," Mr. Bolton told reporters yestedray, recalling the failure of Turtle Bay's predecessor, the League of Nations, in which every decision needed the consent of all members for it to pass.

He noted that when they met two months ago, the foreign ministers of the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany resolved to give Iran one more chance to accept a package of diplomatic incentives or face punitive measures. "Russia and China, through their foreign ministers, committed to seeking sanctions," Mr. Bolton said.

But when asked whether, in the aftermath of the carrot approach, it was time for the council to apply the stick, China's deputy U.N. ambassador, Liu Zehnmin, told the Sun, "It's not simply carrot or stick. It's a much more complicated issue."

Mr. Liu said he hoped more negotiations would be launched with Iran, including by Secretary-General Annan, who intends to visit Mr. Ahmadinejad in Tehran over the weekend.

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