Yesterday, I wrote a story -- published in the Washington Post and posted on this blog -- detailing how flawed intelligence on Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction program had cast a shadow over an ongoing effort to establish the facts surrounding the alleged use of chemical weapons in Syria. A former inspector from the U.N. Special Commission on Iraq took issue with my characterization of the Iraq effort as the "fruitless pursuit of lethal stockpiles that had long before been destroyed" and directed me to an official list of UNSCOM achievements.
It is true that UNSCOM was responsible for identifying and destroying large numbers of dormant chemical and biological weapons in Saddam's arsenals. But U.N. weapons inspections endured for so long -- more than 15 years -- because Iraq had secretly destroyed many of its stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons in the summer of 1991, telling the U.N. it had feared U.S. military retaliation if the stocks were ever discovered.
U.N. inspectors -- unable to obtain persuasive documentary proof from the Iraqis that the weapons had been destroyed -- engaged in a largely "fruitless" effort to find them or corroborate Iraq's claims that they no longer existed. It was not until after Saddam Hussein's overthrow that the CIA's Iraq Survey Group -- headed by a former U.N. inspector, Charles Duelfer -- provided a definitive account indicating that Iraq had destroyed most of its chemical and biological weapons programs by 1991. Here's a link to UNSCOM's official achievements page for a fuller list of weapons destroyed.
"UNSCOM has uncovered significant undeclared proscribed weapons programmes, destroyed elements of these programmes so far identified, including equipment, facilities and materials, and has been attempting to map out and verify the full extent of these programmes in the face of Iraq's serious efforts to deceive and conceal," reads the UNSCOM statement.
"Examples of what has been uncovered since 1991 include: the existence of Iraq's offensive biological warfare programme; the chemical nerve agent VX and other advanced chemical weapons capabilities; and Iraq's indigenous production of proscribed missiles engines. Following these discoveries, UNSCOM has directed and supervised the destruction or rendering harmless of several identified facilities and large quantities of equipment for the production of chemical and biological weapons as well as proscribed long-range missiles."
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Listening to North Korea's response to the latest round of U.N. sanctions, one might be forgiven for thinking that there is no U.N. Security Council, or China, for that matter.
It was America that did this to us.
In advance of Thursday's decision by the 15-nation council to impose additional sanctions on Pyongyang, the North Korean leadership threatened to go nuclear; but its target was Washington D.C., not the Security Council's 1st Ave. home in New York, and certainly not Beijing.
Labeling the Obama administration a "criminal threatening global peace" the Hermit Kingdom vowed preemptive nuclear action if the United States pressed ahead with the sanctions vote. It also announced it would revoke all its non-aggression deals with South Korea, America's "puppet."
"Since the United States is about to ignite a nuclear war, we will be exercising our right to preemptive nuclear attack against the headquarters of the aggressor in order to protect our supreme interest," said Pyongyang.
The United States, and the Security Council, brushed off the North Korean threat as another rhetorical blast signifying little. "Let us be clear: We are fully capable of dealing with that threat," White House spokesman Jay Carney, assured reporters, citing Pyongyang's limited ballistic missile capability.
That asymmetry may be at the heart of why North Korea continues to test its ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons in defiance of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The country's new leader likely feels that the tests help consolidate his hold on power at home. And clearly, he is seeking to rattle his new South Korean counterpart at a time of political transition. Or maybe, as Jennifer Lind, an associate professor at Dartmouth University, suggested in a piece in Foreign Affairs, North Korea is simply conducting nuclear and ballistic missile tests because that what you need to do to improve your arsenal.
Whatever the motivation, North Korea has ample cause to blame the United States for its latest troubles. The United States took the lead in negotiating the past five Security Council sanctions resolutions.
But the most recent spate of sanctions wouldn't have happened without North Korea's dearest friend and benefactor, China.
The resolution adopted by the council on Thursday was hammered out in closed door negotiations between Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, and her Chinese counterpart, Li Baodong. It was presented to the other council members as a joint U.S.-China resolution. And while Li had initially resisted the American push for sanctions, he finally came around and pledged to ensure that the council's measures are implemented in full.
That means China -- however grudgingly -- is on board for a sweeping range of financial, diplomatic, and military sanctions, including a humiliating luxury ban designed to deny Kim Jong Un and his inner circle the ability to buy yachts, racing cars, and fine jewelry.
So why hasn't Kim's propaganda brigade laid a glove on Beijing?
Analysts believe that while Beijing is truly irked by Pyongyang's nuclear bravado, its primary goal is avoiding a collapse of the regime, which could result in the flight of huge numbers of refugees into China, and lay the groundwork for Korea's unification and the possible deployment of Korean and American forces closer to its border.
"We have been socialized into expecting so little from China that there's excitement when China shows even a bit of sternness," wrote Victor Cha, Korea chair of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and Ellen Kim, a fellow at the CSIS. But they added: "In the past, China-DPRK trade has increased in the aftermath of U.N. sanctions."
Dartmouth's Lind told Turtle Bay that Pyongyang "probably understands it is walking a pretty fine line when it comes to China" and does not want to antagonize its neighbor any more than it already has.
On the one hand, she said, Pyongyang's leadership recognizes that Beijing has an interest in preserving the North Korean regime to serve as a buffer between South Korea and its military protector, the United States. But she added that Beijing's relationship with Pyongyang threatens to become increasingly estranged as China's global interests diverge.
"China has growing interests and it wants to be a leading power. North Korea is like one of those friends you had in high school that you are a little embarrassed of when you get older," said Lind.
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We know he loves basketball.
But how does North Korean leader Kim Jong Un feel about car racing?
A new U.S. and Chinese draft resolution condemning North Korea's latest nuclear test has imposed a broad range of measures aimed at limiting the regime's ability to develop its nuclear and ballistic missile program. But buried in the list of items barred from importation into North Korea are a handful of luxury items, including high-end jewelry, pleasure yachts, luxury automobiles, and race cars.
The U.N. Security Council had previously prohibited the export of luxury goods into North Korea in 2006, but it never specified which products should be considered luxurious enough to be banned. In April 2007, a U.N. sanctions committee ruled that each member state would be responsible for determining what fell under the ban. In Italy, high-end tap shoes were enough to trigger airport security to act. In Austria, government authorities cracked down on a businessman selling luxury yachts to the North Koreans.
A U.N. panel responsible for monitoring U.N. sanctions against North Korea in 2010 documented six illegal purchases of luxury goods by the North Koreans, including 2 yachts, 12 Mercedes-Benz vehicles, 37 pianos, and high-end cosmetics. In 2009, Italian customs officials at Fiumicino Airport in Rome seized "a shipment of electronic items, including a projector, some amplifiers and other electronic equipment suitable for a cinema hall seating 1,000 people." Later that year, Italian authorities in the Port of Ancona seized 150 bottles of cognac and 270 bottles of whisky.
"The Democratic People's Republic of Korea remains actively engaged in the illicit procurement of luxury goods," the panel concluded. "Some of the luxury goods, such as the acquisition of the two luxury yachts, were facilitated by Office 39 of the Korean Workers' Party and obviously destined for use by senior regime figures."
China has always viewed the luxury ban as excessive -- a gratuitous penalty promoted by the west to humiliate the North Korean leadership -- and it has largely refused to enforce it. Commercial flights from Beijing to Pyongyang are routinely packed with luxury goods, according to an official who was recently in the country.
So China's agreement to ban specific luxury goods provides an indication of how angry Beijing must be at its troublesome neighbor and ally.
But will a ban on race cars really bite? A cursory search through Google and Nexis didn't turn up any stories about Formula 1 races or the leader's love of fast cars -- though I did come across a few stories about a new online car racing game based in Pyongyang.
My guess is that the new U.N. list was based on a luxury watchlist assembled by the U.S. Commerce Department, which includes racing cars, tobacco, silk, leather, furs, fake furs, perfumes, cosmetics, designer clothes, pearl- and gem-encrusted jewelry, flat-screen televisions, laptop computers, snowmobiles and ... recreational sports equipment. Hmmm, I wonder if they ban basketballs. Now, that would hurt.
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As the U.N. Security Council weighs its reaction to North Korea's third and largest nuclear test, leader Kim Jong Un's government gave diplomats in New York something new to chew on.
Speaking at the U.N. Conference on Disarmament, the North Korean official Jon Yong Ryong warned the gathering of international diplomats that his government was prepared to take action against South Korea.
"As the saying goes, a new-born puppy knows no fear of a tiger. South Korea's erratic behavior would only herald its final destruction," he said.
The remarks came on a day when South Korea's President Lee Myung-bak delivered his farewell address to the nation he will cease leading on Monday, when a new South Korean leader, Park Geun-hye, will take up the reins of power. Clearly, the North Korean leadership was hoping to see him off with a final goodbye kick on his way out.
But it was the second time in a week that North Korea has threatened military action, raising concerns in New York that Pyongyang is eager to stay on a path of confrontation for a bit longer. Last week, the North Korean government issued a similar statement warning the United States that it was prepared to take action if Washington pursues further steps to rein in its activities.
"If the United States makes the situation complicated by remaining hostile through the end we will have no choice but to take serial measures with more intense second and third response," the statement warned. It added that the interdiction of North Korean vessels "will be instantly regarded as an act of war and will lead to our relentless retaliatory strikes on their bases."
Last week, Reuters reported that North Korea has informed China, its most important ally, that is is preparing for a new round of missile launches or nuclear tests. The move suggested that Kim Jong Un, far from looking for a way to lower the temperature, was turning up the furnace.
But to what end?
North Korea's threats are unlikely to soften the Western response to its nuclear test. On Monday, the European Union agreed to impose a new round of sanctions aimed at further isolating North Korea from the international financial and banking communities.
Perhaps North Korea is hoping to scare China into blocking a new round of more intrusive U.N. financial and diplomatic sanctions being pressed by the United States and its Asian and European allies. In their preliminary discussion with Security Council colleagues, Chinese diplomats have urged their Western partners not to overact to the North Korean action. But some officials say that China, infuriated by North Korean's refusal to heed its calls for restraint, is now prepared to inflict some pain on its troublesome neighbor.
Some U.N. diplomats said they believe that North Korea is simply trying to strengthen its hand in its dealing with the United States.
"When a mischievous boy wants to get a girl's attention he will pull her pigtail," said one Asian diplomat who follows the issue. The main goal of the tough talk, the official said, is to scare the United States into re-engaging with North Korea. "I think the new leadership wants to show the Americans that they are capable of escalating."
George Lopez, a former member of a U.N. Security Council panel monitoring sanctions on North Korea's nuclear and ballistic missile programs, said Pyongyang's threats follow the usual pattern: "lots of bombast, lots of defiance, and then a moment of calm when they say let's talk."
But he said the world is confronting a country with a renewed level of self-confidence, brought on by a pair of highly successful ballistic missile and nuclear tests, within a very short time frame. "I don't treat this as bluster. They want to make a definitive statement that we are a power that needs to be dealt with," Lopez said.
"The United States is going to say we've been here before, but North Korea wants to present itself as having risen to a qualitatively different stage" in its military status.
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The U.N. Security Council first called on North Korea to rein in its nuclear ambitions in 1993; more than a decade later, in 2006, it imposed its first round of sanctions to compel Pyongyang to freeze its nuclear and ballistic missile tests.
The U.N. pressure campaign -- punctuated by perennial bouts of nuclear diplomacy with Pyongyang -- has left Democratic and Republican administrations with little to show for their efforts. During the Obama administration, the Security Council has expanded the sanctions and threatened four times to impose additional penalties on North Korea if it continues to flout international demands to halt its nuclear program.
Pyongyang demonstrated once again this week it has no intention to heed those threats. In a press statement issued shortly after North Korea set off its third nuclear test on Monday, Pyongyang responded to the chorus of international condemnation with the usual bluster: North Korea, the statement asserted, has been forced to develop a nuclear deterrent to counter what it calls a "hostile" U.S. campaign to threaten its existence, and deprive it of what it sees as its legitimate right to launch satellites into space.
"If the United States makes the situation complicated by remaining hostile through the end we will have no choice but to take serial measures with more intense second and third response," the statement warned. It added that the interdiction of North Korean vessels "will be instantly regarded as an act of war and will lead to our relentless retaliatory strikes on their bases."
Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, hit back, pledging a "swift, credible, and strong response by way of a Security Council resolution that further impedes the growth of DPRK's nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs and its abilities to engage in proliferation actions."
But Rice encountered immediate resistance from China during the council's closed door session on Tuesday. China's deputy U.N. envoy, Wang Min, said that Beijing was firmly opposed to North Korea's action and underscored the importance of a nuclear-free Korean peninsula. But he also sought to water down the council's response, initially arguing that the nuclear test posed no threat to international peace and security and needed to be addressed through dialogue with the government.
Wang ultimately yielded on that point after Rice read out North Korea's statement to the council, in which she posed a simple question: How can North Korea's nuclear test, coupled with a threat to strike out at the United States, not constitute a threat to international peace and security?
But Wang secured a concession -- the removal of a provision underlining the council's intent to begin negotiation of a Security Council resolution under Chapter Seven -- that signaled China's ongoing reluctance to impose further sanctions on North Korea. (Chapter Seven is the provision in the U.N. Charter that it invokes for the imposition of sanctions). In its place, the council issued a statement pledging to consider "appropriate measures" in response to Pyongyang's action. Western diplomats noted that previous North Korean nuclear tests have resulted in Chapter Seven resolutions, and it would be unthinkable that a resolution adopted in response to the latest test would not be under Chapter Seven.
So what measures could the U.N. Security Council take, short of military action (which virtually no country advocates), to convince North Korea to halt its nuclear program?
North Korea is already perhaps the most isolated country in the world. Its trade is scrutinized at foreign ports. Ships carrying North Korean supplies are routinely boarded and searched. Its banks largely shy away from doing business in the world's main financial markets.
Rice provided few details, saying simply that the United States would seek to "tighten" and "augment" a set of existing sanctions aimed at limiting North Korea's capacity to develop its weapons programs. The U.S. envoy recalled that the Security Council had just warned Pyongyang last month that it would face "significant action" from the council if it launched a ballistic missile or tested a nuclear weapon. "And indeed, we will do so," she assured reporters.
Turtle Bay has compiled a list of possible sanctions targets:
The 800-pound gorilla in the debate about the effectiveness of any sanctions is China. By the end of 2010, the last date for which there are records, China's trade with North Korea had boomed, surpassing $3.06 billion, up nearly 10 percent over 2008, according to figures cited by a U.N. panel monitoring enforcement of the North Korea sanctions.
A major share of North Korea's imports arrive via the Chinese port of Dalian, or across the border by land. George Lopez, a professor of peace studies at Notre Dame University and former member of a Security Council panel monitoring North Korea sanctions, said China could have a major impact on the sanctions if it enforced them more aggressively.
For instance, he said, they could conduct random inspections of goods entering the country, and they apply pressure on Chinese companies that trade with the north not to supply prohibited goods. Chinese banks, he added, could choose to clamp down on financial transactions by firms suspected of violating sanctions. But he said the United States may have to convince Beijing that it recognizes its interest in forestalling a collapse of the North Korean economy, and provide greater assurances that it has no intention to back the downfall of the regime in Pyongyang.
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The U.N. Security Council this morning issued a statement that "strongly condemns" North Korea's detonation of nuclear explosives as a "grave threat" to world peace and pledged to immediately start negotiations on a legally binding Security Council resolution that would impose unspecified new measures against Pyongyang.
The council statement was read out by South Korea's Foreign Minister Kim Sung Hwan, whose government is serving as the Security Council's president for the month of February. Speaking on behalf of his country, Kim said the "nuclear test poses a direct challenge to the whole international community" and that Pyonygang "will be held responsible for any consequences of this provocative act."
The 15-nation council's action set the stage for another high-level U.S.-led effort to convince China to support a tougher Security Council resolution on Pyongyang's provocation. Western governments were hopeful that North Korea's open defiance of its powerful benefactor in Beijing would support fresh penalties against its leadership.
The blast on Monday comes about two months after Pyongyang launched a satellite into space in violation of U.N. resolutions and just weeks after the Security Council adopted a resolution expanding the list of North Korean individuals and companies subject to U.N. sanctions. Before the meeting, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Susan Rice, who negotiated that resolution with the Chinese, sounded an exasperated note as she prepared for a new round of negotiations. "We'll do the usual drill," said Rice.
Following today's meeting, Rice said the United States would seek to "augment" the range of financial and diplomatic sanctions on Pyongyang. "The Security Council must and will deliver a swift, credible and strong response by way of a Security Council resolution that further impedes the growth of [North Korea's] nuclear and ballistic missile programs."
Rice recalled that the Security Council had previously warned North Korea that it would undertake "significant action" against Pyongyang in the event of another nuclear or ballistic missile test "and indeed we will do so."
Any action in the council will require the backing of China, which has the power to veto any Security Council decisions. It remain unclear how far Beijing was prepared to go in punishing its neighbor. China issued a statement that reiterated its previous call on North Korea "not to take any further actions that would worsen the situation" and counseling caution by Western powers not to overreact.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, a former South Korean foreign minister, also denounced North Korea, telling the Security Council: "I strongly condemn Pyongyang's reckless act, which shows outright disregard for the repeated call of the international community to refrain from further provocative measures. The test is a clear and grave violation of the relevant resolutions of the Security Council."
"I am profoundly concerned about the negative impact of this act on regional stability. It is deplorable that Pyongyang has chosen the path of defiance," Ban added.
"This third nuclear test by Pyongyang is a serious challenge to global efforts to curb nuclear proliferation. The DPRK is the only country that has carried out nuclear tests in the 21st century. The authorities in Pyongyang should not be under any illusion that nuclear weapons will enhance their security. To the contrary, as Pyongyang pursues nuclear weapons, it will suffer only greater insecurity and isolation."
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Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, has a reputation for diplomatic sparring. Her battles with the Russian envoy, Vitaly Churkin, and the French ambassador, Gerard Araud, have been epic.
But Rice has generally held her punches in negotiations with Li Baodong, China's reserved, formal, U.N. envoy -- a man who has shown little taste for the diplomatic joust.
That is, until now. Early today, the big power envoys squared off in a closed-door Security Council session over competing views about how the 15-nation body should react to North Korea's missile launch.
Rice urged the Security Council to swiftly respond to North Korea's surprise launch of a satellite (via a ballistic missile) with a statement condemning Pyongyang's action as a violation of U.N. resolutions and characterizing it as a provocative act that "undermines regional stability."
Li pushed back, saying that there was no need to condemn North Korea, and that its test constituted no threat to regional stability.
"That's ridiculous," Rice shot back, according to one of three council diplomats who described the encounter.
"Ridiculous?" a visibly angered Li responded through an interpreter. "You better watch your language."
"Well, it's in the Oxford dictionary, and Churkin -- if he were in the room -- he would know how to take it," retorted Rice.
The reference to Oxford dictionary refers to Churkin's riposte, in December 2011, to a public broadside by Rice, who charged him with making "bogus claims" about alleged NATO war crimes in Libya to divert attention from charges of war crimes against its Syrian ally.
"This is not an issue that can be drowned out by expletives. You might recall the words one could hear: bombast and bogus claims, cheap stunt, duplicitous, redundant, superfluous, stunt," said Churkin to Rice. "Oh, you know, you cannot beat a Stanford education, can you?" said Churkin, mocking Rice's alma mater. Rice, a former Rhodes scholar, later noted that she also went to Oxford.
Today, however, Li countered that Rice's remarks were consistent with an American foreign policy approach that seeks to impose its will on other states.
In the end, however, Rice and her council allies were able to secure a clear condemnation of Pyongyang, though they dropped the provision suggesting the test has undermined regional stability. A Security Council statement condemned the missile launch, calling it a "clear violation" of U.N. Security Council resolutions banning ballistic missile tests. The council took note that it threatened last April to take action against North Korea if it launched further tests, and it vowed to "continue consultations on an appropriate response."
The United States, working with Japan and South Korea, is expected to lead efforts in the coming weeks to forge a tougher council reaction, preferably a resolution imposing sanctions. But they are expected to encounter tough resistance from China, which indicated it was not prepared to support a confrontational resolution penalizing Pyongyang, according to council diplomats.
And the man Rice will have to persuade to impose the council's will on North Korea is her new sparring partner, Li Baodong.
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Andrew Burton/Getty Images
So what does Iran get out of its chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), a Cold War-era body that has frequently been dismissed by Western pundits as a relic of a bygone era?
For one thing: a ready-made constituency of 120 countries -- many of them close U.S. allies like Chile, Saudi Arabia, and Singapore -- supporting Iranian policies on a range of issues, from its pursuit of nuclear self-sufficiency to efforts to rally international opposition to an Israeli strike against its nuclear facilities.
Iran's chairmanship of the body, which will last three years, is also undercutting efforts by the United States, European powers, and Israel to isolate the Iranian government, a fact that was driven home by the participation of key leaders, including U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and Egyptian leader Mohamed Morsy, at the NAM summit in Tehran last month. (To be fair, Ban used the occasion to criticize the Iranians, while Morsy blasted Iran's close ally, Syria, for repressing his people.)
Today, Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, delivered a statement on behalf of the NAM at a high-level U.N. meeting on countering nuclear terrorism that underscored states' rights to nuclear power, proposed the creation of a treaty prohibiting military strikes on nuclear energy programs, and demanded Israel "renounce possession of nuclear weapons" and submit its secret, undeclared, program to monitoring by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The speech repeated many longstanding positions by the Non-Aligned Movement, which exercises considerable influence over U.N. debates.
But its delivery by a high-ranking Iranian official lent additional weight to Tehran's case that efforts by the United States and other world powers to rein in Iran's nuclear program could be used against others. Iran, which is the target of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions demanding it cease its enrichment of uranium, claims its nuclear activities are allowed by the landmark Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
The IAEA, which is responsible for monitoring compliance with the NPT, has expressed serious concerns about Iran's nuclear activities, citing a pattern of withholding critical evidence of their nuclear activities and failing to fully cooperate with efforts to investigate reports that it is pursuing nuclear weapons. The agency recently raised concern that Iran has sharply stepped up enrichment activities in breach of Security Council resolutions.
Salehi's speech also posed an indirect challenge to Israel to hold off any military attack on Iran's nuclear program, which Tehran claims is used solely for the production of electricity, but which Israel insists is a cover for a nuclear weapons program.
"NAM reaffirms the inviolability of peaceful nuclear activities and that any attack or threat of attack against peaceful nuclear facilities -- in operation or under construction -- constitutes a grave violation of international law, and purposes of the UN Charter and regulations of the IAEA," Salehi told the New York gathering. "NAM recognizes the urgent need for a comprehensive multilaterally negotiated instrument prohibiting attacks or threat of attacks on nuclear facilities devoted to peaceful uses of nuclear energy."
The statement also included a broadside against the U.N. Security Council, which has adopted numerous resolutions demanding Iran halt nuclear activities that are not expressively prohibited by the NPT. The Iranian gambit plays on broader resentment at the United Nations against the Security Council, which has been accused of overreaching and seeking to impose constraints on countries nuclear energy programs that are permissible under international treaty.
"NAM underlines the need to ensure that any action by the Security Council does not undermine the UN Charter and existing multilateral treaties on weapons of mass destruction," said Salehi.
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The U.N. Security Council issued a mild statement deploring North Korea's failed launch of a satellite rocket on Friday, but stopped short of imposing any fresh penalties on the government for its defiance of previous U.N. demands.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice, who is presiding over the council's rotating presidency this month, said that Pyongyang had violated two U.N. Security Council resolutions banning missile launches.
"The Security Council deplored this launch, which is in violation of Security Council Resolutions 1718 and 1874," said Rice, speaking on behalf of the 15-nation council. "Members of the Security Council agree to continue consultations on an appropriate response."
The mild response reflected concern among key council members, including China, that a harsh rebuke could complicate international efforts to contain the nuclear power, prompting North Korea to respond with a fresh nuclear test. It set the stage for lengthy discussions at the U.N. on how to calibrate the council's response.
U.S. officials say they are unlikely to pursue a new round of tough sanctions on Pyongyang in the Security Council, but that they would seek to tighten the enforcement of existing U.N. sanctions. The White House, meanwhile, announced it was backing away from plans to provide humanitarian assistance to North Korea.
The move followed a public rebuke of North Korea from U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's office. A spokesman for Ban, who is in Geneva, issued a statement saying that "despite its failure, the launch of the so-called "application satellite" by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) on 13 April, 2012, is deplorable as it defies the firm and unanimous stance of the international community."
"The Secretary General renews his call on DPRK authorities to work towards building confidence with neighboring countries and improving the life of its people," read the statement. Ban also reaffirmed his commitment to "helping the people of DPRK, in particular, addressing the serious food and nutrition needs of the most vulnerable."
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JUNG YEON-JE/AFP/Getty Images
Israeli officials have long expressed deep skepticism about the impact of international sanctions alone in compelling Iran's leadership to abandon what it sees as its pursuit of nuclear weapons. Israel's U.N. ambassador, Ron Prosor, told a group of reporters on Friday at the Israeli mission to the United Nations, that he believes Tehran is as committed as ever to a nuclear weapon.
But he also credited international sanctions, particularly a set of financial measures imposed by the United States and the European Union, with exacting a steep enough price that it may force Tehran to change its behavior. Prosor cited a recent decision by the Belgium-based Society of World Wide Interbank Financial Telecommunications, or Swift, blocking dozens of Iranian firms from doing business as the latest evidence the sanctions are having an impact.
"I think the international community at this stage has really moved forward and have made at least clear to Tehran that there is a certain price tag for continuing" its pursuit of nuclear weapons, he said. "The decision on SWIFT, the issue of the sanctions by the EU, are important and have an effect on Iran...I do see really a movement on the international stage, especially on the economic side...It's much more effective than people think and it might change, hopefully it might change behavior patterns if we continue with it."
Prosor made the remarks at a press breakfast with more than a dozen international reporters at the Israeli mission, providing a hint that Israel may be stepping away from its campaign to rally support for military strikes against Iran. He also used the meeting to underscore anti-Israeli bias at the United Nations Human Rights Council, and highlight the need for humanitarian assistance in Syria.
Asked to comment on a recent report in Foreign Policy that Israel had reached an agreement with Azerbaijan, which borders Iran, to use its airbases in the event of a possible air strike against Iran's nuclear facilities. "I'm happy to say I don't know. That happens to me once in while but the answer is I just don't know. I just don't know,"
Prosor said that his government's chief priority in neighboring Syria, where a government crackdown on protesters entered its second year, "is to focus on anything that could be done in order to relieve and help on the humanitarian side these people in Syria who are being slaughtered." But Prosor declined to respond to a question on what kind of government Israel would prefer to see in Syria.
"Israeli politicians don't say anything on Syria and it is nor coincidental that they don't speak," he said. "Anything we would say on this will be used and abused against the people that I think we want to help. Having said that...I want to formally say clearly here that Bashar Assad does not have the moral authority to lead his people."
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UN Photo/Paulo Filgueiras
Iran denounced the United States at the United Nations on Thursday night for engaging in a pattern of "provocative and covert operations," including the use of an RQ-170 unmanned spy drone that was captured by Iranian authorities, and warned that Tehran "reserves its legitimate rights to take all necessary measures to protect its national sovereignty."
Iran's U.N. ambassador Mohammad Khazaee wrote in a letter to U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon that the United States has stepped up covert operations against Iran in recent months, perhaps referring to the assassination of three Iranian nuclear scientists. He called on the United Nations to condemn what he described as "acts of aggression" and to take "clear and effective measures" to "put an end to these dangerous and unlawful acts."
The diplomatic protest comes as the Iranian government has itself come under intensive criticism at the United Nations over its nuclear program, its human rights conduct, and its alleged role in an assassination plot against Saudi Arabia's ambassador to the United Nations.
Earlier this month, the International Atomic Energy Agency issued a report expressing serious "concern" that Iran has been seeking to master the technology to develop nuclear weapons capability. The U.N. General Assembly's Human Rights Council, meanwhile, adopted a resolution deploring the alleged assassination attempt.
A copy of the latest Iranian letter, which will also be presented to the presidents of the U.N. Security Council and General Assembly, was emailed to Turtle Bay by the Iranian government.
It says the American drone "violated Iran's air space" by flying "250 Kilometers deep into Iranian territory up to the northern region of the city of Tabas, where it faced prompt and forceful action by the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran."
"This is not the only act of aggression and covert operation by the United States against the Islamic Republic of Iran," Khazee wrote. "My Government emphasizes that this blatant and unprovoked air violation by the United States Government is tantamount to an act of hostility against the Islamic Republic of Iran in clear contravention of international law, in particular, the basic tenets of the United Nations Charter."
(Full text below.)
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* * *
In the name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful
No. 1396 8 December 2011
Upon instructions from my Government, I have the honor to draw your kind attention to the provocative and covert operations against the Islamic Republic of Iran by the United States Government, which have increased and intensified in recent months.
In the continuation of such trend, recently, an American RQ-170 unmanned spy plane, bearing a specific serial number, violated Iran 's air space. This plane flied 250 Kilometers deep into Iranian territory up to the northern region of the city of Tabas , where it faced prompt and forceful action by the Armed Forces of the Islamic Republic of Iran.
In the past, the Iranian Government lodged its strong protests against similar acts by submitting several Notes including Notes No. 164440 dated 29 October 2008 and No. 268483 dated 11 February 2009 to the Government of the United States.
My Government emphasizes that this blatant and unprovoked air violation by the United States Government is tantamount to an act of hostility against the Islamic Republic of Iran in clear contravention of international law, in particular, the basic tenets of the United Nations Charter. The Iranian Government expresses its strong protest over these violations and acts of aggression and warns against the destructive consequences of the recurrence of such acts. The Islamic Republic of Iran reserves its legitimate rights to take all necessary measures to protect its national sovereignty.
My Government, hereby, calls for the condemnation of such acts of aggression and requests for clear and effective measures to be taken to put an end to these dangerous and unlawful acts in line with the United Nations' responsibilities to maintain international and regional peace and security, in accordance with the letter and spirit of the United Nations Charter.
I am sending identical letters to the President of the General Assembly and the President of the Security Council. It would be appreciated if this letter could be circulated as a document of the General Assembly under the agenda item 83 and of the Security Council.
Please accept, Excellency, the assurances of my highest consideration.
H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon
Secretary-General of the United Nations
cc: H.E. Ambassador Vitaly Churkin
President of Security Council
United Nations, New York
cc: H.E. Mr. Nasser A. Al-Nasser
President of General Assembly
United Nations, New York
The International Atomic Energy Agency's report on Iran's program constitutes the U.N. nuclear watchdog's strongest case ever that Iran is likely developing a nuclear weapon. But will it be enough to persuade Iran's most stalwart defenders, China and Russia, that its time to ratchet up pressure on Iran with a new round of biting U.N. sanctions?
In recent weeks, China and Russia mounted a pressure campaign of their own, sending top diplomats to meet with the IAEA's general director, Yukiya Amano, to convince him not to release his findings, which they view as too circumstantial and speculative.
In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement casting doubts about the wisdom of the IAEA's decision to release raw findings before the public, saying they would doom prospects for a resumption of talks between Iran and a group of six major powers -- the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany -- over the fate of Iran's nuclear program.
"We have serious doubts about the justification for steps to reveal contents of the report to a broad public, primarily because it is precisely now that certain chances for the renewal of dialogue between the sextet of international mediators and Tehran have begun to appear," according to the statement, which was reported by Reuters.
Amano's report dispenses with the IAEA's traditional caution in assessing evidence suggesting Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons. "There are indications," he said plainly, "that some activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device continued after 2003, and that some may still be ongoing."
"The agency has serious concerns regarding the possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program," he added. "The information indicates that Iran has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device."
Iran, which has long denied it is developing nuclear weapons, dismissed the report as a politically motivated attack, and derided the IAEA chief as a U.S. lackey. In a statement in the official Islamic Republic News Agency, the Iranian government derided the report as "a series of false information added to the Amano report under U.S. pressure."
Senior Western diplomats say they see no signs that Iran is any more willing to engage in meaningful discussions over its nuclear intentions than it has been during more than seven years of on-and-off-again talks with the Iranians.
"Frankly, we have tried everything. They have never shown any openness ... to a substantial negotiation," France's U.N. envoy, Gerard Araud, acknowledged in a public discussion in September that I moderated at the French Consulate in New York.
Araud said that four rounds of U.N. sanctions are moving closer to harming the "crucial, vital interests" of Iran's trading partners, mostly notably Russia and China, the latter of which is becoming increasingly dependent on Iranian oil to meet the energy needs of a rapidly growing economy. "Is it possible to still tighten sanctions? Is it possible to go further, to move further?" he asked. "I doubt it. I really doubt it. Maybe in six months."
Another Western diplomat told Turtle Bay that the latest IAEA report may strengthen the West's hands in securing support for some modest measures, like expanding the number of individuals targeted by a U.N. travel ban and asset freeze, something that has been impossible to achieve since the Security Council last imposed sanctions on Iran in 2010.
But the diplomat said that more biting sanctions, like a ban on Iranian oil or gas trade, would likely trigger a Chinese or Russian veto. It's also unclear whether the United States, Britain, and France, would be keen on running the risk of disrupting an important source of the global oil supply during a period of economic crisis.
In any event, the official said, the Security Council is unlikely to even discuss the Iranian nuclear issue until next month, after the IAEA membership board meets to consider it.
But there is another reason why the Russians may be unwilling to play ball. The latest IAEA report, according to a Bloomberg news item, includes evidence put forward by an unnamed Russian scientist who helped the Iranians try to develop a strategy for boosting the yield on the force of an atomic bomb.
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For European and American leaders, U.N. General Assembly debates would not be the complete without delivering a full-throated attack on Iran's nuclear program.
But this year, the council's major powers have been mute, particularly the three European powers, Britain, France and Germany, that have engaged in a long, fruitless effort to persuade the Iranian leadership to provide verifiable assurances that its nuclear program is peaceful in exchange for a basket of trade benefits and political rewards.
France's President Nicolas Sarkozy didn't make a single reference to Iran's nuclear program in his address last week to the General Assembly. British Prime Minister David Cameron blasted Iran's repressive policies at home, but said nothing about its atomic ambitions. Ditto for Germany's Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
Minutes after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadenijad blasted the United States, Britain, and Israel for military aggression in the Middle East and elsewhere, Cameron shot back: "He didn't remind us that he runs a country where they may have election of a sort but they also repress freedom of speech, do everything they can to avoid the accountability of a free media, violently repress demonstrations and detain and torture those who argue for a better future."
President Barack Obama did commit a couple of sentences to Tehran's nuclear program, but it was largely boilerplate, and lacked the sense of urgency and alarm that has marked previous public statements.
"The Iranian government cannot demonstrate that its program is peaceful, it has not met its obligations and it rejects offers that would provide it with peaceful nuclear power," Obama said in a U.N. speech that addressed the Arab Spring and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Iran, along with North Korea, "must be met with greater pressure and isolation," he said, if they "continue down a path that is outside international law."
If one missed the fire and brimstone diplomatic sermons on Iran's nuclear threat that used to be standard fare in Washington and Paris there was only Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Speaking a day after Ahmadinejad excoriated the West for a litany of historical sins, Netanyahu said "can you imagine that man who ranted yesterday -- can you imagine him armed with nuclear weapons? The international community must stop Iran before it's too late. If Iran is not stopped, we will all face the specter of nuclear terrorism, and the Arab Spring could soon become an Iranian Winter."
But apart from Netanyahu, it was notably quiet. "Most Council members remain concerned about the continuation and possible acceleration of Iran's nuclear program," according to an assessment by the Security Council Report, a non-profit, Columbia University-affiliated research group that tracks the Security Council's activities. "However, as has been the case for some months, even members willing to consider additional action against Iran do not view any new measures as likely in the near future. It appears most members are not eager to push for additional Council action at this time."
Certainly, Iran's nuclear program hasn't gone away or halted its advances. On Sept. 2, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) issued a mixed report on Iran's nuclear activities, citing continued cooperation with nuclear inspectors who visited many of Iran's declared nuclear facilities, but also confirmed efforts by Tehran to step up its uranium enrichment activities -- including the introduction of more advanced enrichment technology -- in flagrant violation of successive U.N. resolutions.
The report also cited "extensive and comprehensive" information related to a possible clandestine military program to develop a nuclear payload for a missile. The report's findings, coupled with Iranian officials' public pronouncements, has raised concerns among the U.S. and Europeans about Iran's plan to expand their stockpile of a more refined grade of uranium enriched to 19.75 percent -- higher than that needed for the generation of electricity and more than required to fuel its advanced medical reactor in Tehran.
STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images
Ban Ki moon has never been known as a straight talker. But tonight he seemed to reach new heights of circumspection, seemingly declaring his intention to run for a second five-year term as secretary general without actually saying so.
The revelation was buried in an official U.N. readout of a New Year's day exchange Ban had with South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak. In it, Ban offers his best wishes to the South Korean president-- the only leader to be so honored-- underscoring the importance the U.N.'s South Korean secretary general continues to place in maintaining close ties with the government that helped promote his rise to the world's top diplomatic job.
Ban's readout--which was issued Saturday evening without fanfare and while most of the press corps was on holiday -- seemed innocuous enough on first glance. Ban praised Seoul for its "active contribution to the work of the United Nations, including through an increase in overseas development assistance and greater participation in peace operations, as well as to global efforts to address climate change and promote green growth," according to the readout. Ban also lauded Lee for his "successful" hosting of a G-20 summit and for South Korea's continued "economic and social development" in 2o10.
For good measure, the readout notes that Ban and Lee discussed the crisis on the Korean peninsula. Ban -- who has been seeking a mediation role there since his first months as secretary general-- said he appreciated Lee's recent decision to try to resolve the nuclear standoff through the resumption of six-nation political talks, a move that effectively sidelines the U.N. Still, Ban appeared hopeful, offering once again to "provide any assistance, as appropriate, in facilitating peace and stability in the region in close coordination with the concerned countries."
But down in the final sentence of the readout, Ban's office blandly notes that the "secretary general looks forward to the 2012 Nuclear Security Summit to be hosted by the ROK[Republic of Korea], an event which would significantly contribute to strengthening the global nuclear non-proliferation regime." A careful reader will recall that Ban's first five-year term expires at the end of 2011, meaning he would need to be reelected in order to attend the Korean summit as secretary general.
Although Ban has signaled for months his intention to run for a second term, he has been declined to publicly announce his plans. Pressed on his intentions last month during a year-end press conference, Ban appealed for patience but said he would make his intention known soon. I'm not sure whether this counts.
There is perhaps only one thing that remains clear in the international furor over the defection/kidnapping of the Iranian scientist Shahram Amiri: getting another country's nuclear scientist on the rolls is the greatest coup that a spy agency can achieve. It's certainly more valuable than implanting a photogenic "illegal" into another country, as Russia's cover operators did in America with their undercover spy, Anna Chapman.
But the excitement of the chase can quickly fade, leaving a generation of atomic defectors feeling a bit jilted as they struggle to make a life for themselves in their new country. "Freedom can be harsh," Charles Duelfer, who led the CIA inquiry into Iraq's weapons of mass destruction, told Turtle Bay. "The U.S. government's interest wanes pretty quickly once fully debriefed. Then what do you do? Can't work on the U.S. nuclear program. Write a book? Then what?"
As long as there have been nuclear programs, there have been nuclear spies. In 1942, before he created James Bond, Ian Flemming, then a 34-year-old commander in the Royal Navy's volunteer reserve, toiled away in a naval intelligence unit and devised and realized a plan to create an elite unit of intelligence commandos who would cross enemy lines to capture vital enemy secrets, according to Sean Longden's history of the squad, T-Force: The Forgotten Heroes of 1945. Under Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, the team uncovered many of Nazi Germany's nuclear secrets and captured prominent German nuclear scientists, including Willem Groth and Otto Hahn.
More than half a century after the dawn of the atomic era, nuclear scientists have maintained their staying power as a high-value intelligence target, garnering large sums for their country's nuclear secrets. American and European sleuths have aggressively pursued nuclear scientists in Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and beyond in an effort to ensure the safety of friendly countries' nuclear stockpiles or to unlock the key to an enemy's most treasured security secrets.
It remains unclear why Amiri decided to leave. A senior U.S. official told the Washington Post that Amiri possessed valuable insights into Iran's nuclear program and that he was paid $5 million to share them with American debriefers -- money he may no longer be able to access. But the official also suggested the U.S. had got what it needed: "We have his information, and the Iranians have him."
But U.S. specialists who have sought to help other nuclear defectors settle in the United States say the Amiri case highlights the challenges in recruiting foreign scientists. The CIA, they say, has often failed to provide the transplants with adequate career prospects or guarantees for the safety of relatives. Some U.S. officials said Amiri, who claims he was kidnapped by American authorities, may have returned because of concerns over the well-being of his family.
"This is a real problem," said David Albright, a nuclear scientist who heads the Institute for Science and International Security. Albright said that the CIA has provided top scientists that have outlived their usefulness with little support and menial careers. Perversely, he said, the approach has encouraged defectors to ply their handlers with exaggerated claims or to provide their services to the next highest bidder. The most notable case involved Rafid Ahmed Alwan, dubbed Curveball by the CIA, who claimed to have been a chemical engineer in a secret mobile biological weapons plant. His assertion, which provided a critical rationale for the U.S. invasion of Iraq, was later disproved by the CIA's Iraq Survey Group, which was led by Duelfer. "The incentive structure encourages these guys to exaggerate their technical qualifications and their knowledge of what's going on in a secret nuclear program," Albright said. "When they drain them dry, their value drops dramatically."
Khidhir Hamza, a former Iraqi nuclear scientist who defected to the United States in 1994, was considered a valuable catch, prompting the CIA to mount a secret operation to spirit his family out of the country, according to Albright. The following year, a more valuable defector, Saddam Hussein's brother in law, Hussein Kamal, fled Iraq for Jordan, providing detailed briefing of Iraq's weapons programs to CIA and U.N. specialists. The defection prompted Iraq to provide greater details about its chemical, biological, and nuclear programs; it also undercut Hamza's value, who was subsequently set up to operate a BP gas station in Fredericksburg, Va. A couple of years later, Hamza approached Albright for a job and helped provide insights into Iraq's nuclear program. But he was also drawn to the Iraqi exile Ahmad Chalabi, together with whom he played a role in exaggerating the threat of Iraq's nuclear program. "He went on to become their biggest nuclear exaggerator," he said.
The United States also assembled a series of task forces in Baghdad to search for high value nuclear operators. One CIA team quickly located Mahdi Obeidi, an Iraqi expert on nuclear centrifuges, who hid a trove of documents and centrifuge parts in his rose garden. The materials, which were buried in the early 1990s, provided a blue print of Iraq's nuclear program. Obeidi told the Americans that the materials had not been touched since then, and that he had ended his work in the nuclear weapons field.
Albright said that U.S. authorities initially offered to allow Obeidi to defect to the United States, but that he would have to leave his family behind. The CIA relented after CNN approached the CIA for comment on the scientist's predicament, according to Albright. "I can tell you it is very, very difficult to get the U.S. government to approve taking in someone," said Duelfer, who urged the White House to allow Obeidi to flee to the United States. "It always amazed me that it is so hard to get approval to bring in someone who may well have risked their life for us." The Russian illegals, he noted, had little trouble getting U.S. residency. "But that's the way it is," Albright says.
Duelfer said the United States "is a difficult place to adjust, especially if you come from circumstances of prestige and assured income...you can do what you want, but you may go broke." Returning home, he said, is not so unusual. Hussein Kamal was lured back to Iraq, where Saddam Hussein had him executed for his treachery. Mordechai Vanunu, an Israeli nuclear technician, was drugged and abducted by Mossad agents in 1986, after telling British reporters about the existence of an Israeli plutonium separation plant. Vitaly Yurchenko, a KGB colonel who defected in 1985, walked away from his CIA handler in Georgetown after being spurned by his mistress, who told him she fell in love with a KGB officer, not a traitor. Like Amiri, Yurchenko told the press he had been kidnapped and tortured.
"We could do better," said Duelfer. "Still, there are reasons we do it badly." He cited the massive costs, political and bureaucratic constraints, and "every imaginable weirdness you can think of from multiple wives and girlfriends to illness and criminal backgrounds."
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More than 150 nations agreed on a nuclear pact Friday aimed at strengthening the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty after the United States and Arab governments agreed to convene a 2012 conference to promote the elimination of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons in the Middle East.
But even before foreign diplomats completed their speeches welcoming the pact, the White House said it might not even take place because Israel, the region's only nuclear power, and Iran, which is suspected of pursuing its own nukes, are unlikely to participate.
"I don't know whether the conference will even happen," said Gary Samore, the White House coordinator for weapons of mass destruction. Samore said that the nuclear pact, which the U.S. supported, contained one major flaw: It singled out Israel, but not Iran, in the section dealing with a Middle East weapons-free zone. "We will not support a meeting that puts Israel in that kind of position."
Samore said that Vice President Joseph Biden and National Security Advisor James Jones warned Arab ambassadors in a meeting Tuesday that "if you insist on mentioning Israel in the Middle East section you're going to make it much more difficult for Israel to come to this conference and for the United States to meet its commitment to organizing this conference. The political symbolism of mentioning Israel in this way is very destructive. It's very likely to jeopardize this conference taking place."
Read the entire story Mary Beth Sheridan and I wrote in the Washington Post.
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The Obama administration on Friday lifted
sanctions against four Russian entities involved in illicit weapons trade with
Iran and Syria since 1999, and acknowledged exempting a Russian-Iranian missile
deal from a U.N. draft resolution banning most missile sales to Iran.
The move comes just three days after the United States, reached agreement with Russia and other key powers reached agreement on a draft sanctioning Iran for violating U.N. demands to halt its uranium enrichment program. The draft includes a loophole that would exempt a 2005 Russian deal, valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, to sell Tehran five S-300 surface-to-air missile systems.
The removal of the four entities, which was recorded in Friday's Federal Register, suggested that the United States engaged in some last-minute bargaining to ensure Moscow's support for sanctions. The companies include Russia's state arms exporter, Rosoboronexport, which was sanctioned for its dealing with Iran in 2006 and 2008, and Moscow Aviation Institute, one of three entities sanctioned in 1999 for aiding Iran's development of ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.
The United States launched full-out negotiations Wednesday in the 15-nation security council on a draft resolution that would expand an arms embargo on Iran and tighten financial measures against Iranian elites.
Read the full story, coauthored with the Washington Post's Glenn Kessler, here.
For a day, Turkey and Brazil, two middling powers, lived large on the international stage, brokering a dramatic nuclear deal with Iran that was intended to stall the big powers' march towards sanctions against Tehran. This morning, the big powers slapped down the diplomatic upstarts, announcing an agreement on a fourth round of sanctions.
Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton announced this morning that the council's major powers, including China and Russia, had reached agreement on a "strong draft" of a resolution imposing sanctions on Iran. The sanctions resolution, which was the subject of contentious negotiations, was abruptly approved only after the Iranian fuel deal was announced.
The new draft (pdf) reflects a moderate reinforcement of existing sanctions on Iran, but stops short of calling for some of the toughest measures initially envisioned by the U.S. and its European allies: restrictions on Iran's lucrative oil trade, including a U.S.-backed proposal to ban new investment in Iran's energy sector. The draft explicitly rules out the right of states to use force or threaten to use force to enforce it.
"This announcement is as convincing an answer to the efforts undertaken by Tehran over the last few days as any we could provide," said Clinton, who finalized the deal in a phone call Tuesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. "We don't believe it was any accident that Iran agreed to this declaration as we were preparing to move forward in New York."
The sanctions pact underscored the importance that countries like China and Russia, which have previously sided with Tehran, place on maintaining the big-power monopoly on the Security Council. The council's five permanent members -- the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia -- plus Germany, presented their draft to the members of the 15-nation council, including Brazil and Turkey.
Brazil and Turkey voiced outrage over the decision to press ahead with a vote on a sanctions resolution. As the council began debating the new draft text, Brazil's U.N. ambassador Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti walked out of the council chamber to tell reporters that her government "will not engage in any draft resolution" on sanctions. She said that there is "still room for negotiations."
Turkey's Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, said the council's five permanent members -- who alone possess the right to possess nuclear weapons -- have lost the moral authority to dictate who should remain in the nuclear club. "Where is your credibility if you have nuclear weapons, but are telling other countries not to have them?," Erdogan said during a speech at European University in Madrid.
But the U.N.'s big powers shrugged off the criticism. In a show of support for the U.S. sanctions draft, Russia's and China's U.N. envoys told reporters that while they appreciated the Turkish and Brazilian diplomatic initiative, they were prepared to support the American draft. "We find the language of the resolution acceptable; we go along with it," said Russia's U.N. ambassador, Vitaly I. Churkin. "Russia as usual is going to treat the views of the non-permanent members with all the respect that they deserve."
Following the council meeting, Susan Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., together with the envoys of Britain and France, downplayed the significance of the latest Iranian offer to ship low-enriched uranium to Turkey in exchange for fuel rods with a higher-grade uranium that can be used to power its medical research reactors.
"The Tehran reactor proposal as tabled in October had nothing to do with Iran's sanctioned activities," Rice said. "In the meantime, Iran has continued to enrich uranium in violation of Security Council resolutions. So any confidence building value of the Tehran research reactor deal has been not only diminished by the time that has elapsed but substantially by Iran's insistence that it will continue to enrich."
Rice said the draft put before the council today would "build on existing U.N. sanctions on Iran and give them additional teeth." But she said the "door remains open" to negotiation with Iran if its lives up to its obligations.
U.S. officials said that they are confident that they can muster the nine votes required for adoption of the resolution in the 15-nation council. The Lebanese government, which includes a faction led by the Iranian-backed Shiite militant group Hezbollah, has made it clear it will not support sanctions against Tehran. Turkey and Brazil likewise reaffirmed their commitment to avoid sanctions. Still, the prospect of three "no" votes would highlight the growing divisions in the international coalition against Iran.
Brazil and Turkey's announcement of a nuclear fuel deal with Iran has done more than complicate U.S. plans for a U.N. sanctions resolution. It also threatens, or promises, to upend the political order that has held sway in the Security Council for decades -- one in which the five permanent members of the U.N.'s most powerful body make all the critical decisions on key security matters.
Not since the run-up to the Iraq war have the council's middle and small powers sought to foil the ambitions of the big five. Despite intense pressure from the United States, Mexican ambassador Adolfo Aguilar Zinser and Chile's envoy Juan Gabriel Valdés refused to back the U.S. drive to war. They were both driven from their jobs (Zinser after ripping the U.S. for cultivating "a relationship of convenience and subordination"), and the United States invaded anyways.
In announcing today's deal, Brazil's Foreign Minister Celso Amorim and his Turkish counterpart Ahmet Davutoglu made it clear that they were rejecting the Obama administration's case for sanctions and asserted Iran is entitled to its rights, under the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), to enrich uranium and develop its own capacity to produce nuclear fuel for peaceful nuclear power. Today's pact makes no mention of the three U.N. Security council resolutions demanding that Tehran cease its enrichment of uranium until it can persuade the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) that it is being used solely for peaceful purposes. "This plan is a route for dialogue and takes away any grounds for sanctions," Amorim told reporters in Tehran.
The move reflects deeper reservations among many key middle powers -- including countries like Egypt, Indonesia, and South Africa -- that the big five powers are preparing to use this month's ongoing NPT review conference in New York to impose greater restraints on the rights of developing countries to develop nuclear fuel programs in the name of preventing proliferation. They fear that any effort to restrict Iran's right to develop its own fuel might be used against them in the future.
Addressing the General Assembly last month, Egypt's U.N. ambassador, Maged Abdelaziz, who chairs the 118 nation Non-Aligned Movement, said it is crucial to "preserve the right of non-nuclear powers to the peaceful use of nuclear energy, and not to allow a fuel bank or any kind of supply arrangement that is going to decide on behalf of the countries concerned what are their developmental needs and how [they should] deal with this fuel."
The accord may be sufficient to drive a wedge between the United States and its European allies, on the one hand, and Russia and China, on the other. Moscow and Beijing have both professed their preference for a negotiated settlement over Iran's nuclear program. And they have both pressed Iran to accept the fuel swap as a way of showing it is serious about resolving the nuclear standoff.
The Britain, France, Germany, and the United States favor a fuel swap as a confidence-building measure aimed at enhancing international trust in Tehran's nuclear intentions. But they harbor suspicions that Iran has cut the deal to evade U.N. sanctions and that it has no intention to adequately addressing international concerns about its nuclear activities.
White House spokesman Robert Gibbs delivered a carefully measured response to the nuclear pact, saying the U.S. welcomed the deal to ship nuclear fuel off Iranian soil, but that Tehran's assertion that it will continue enriching uranium "is a direct violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions." He urged Iran to report the agreement immediately to the IAEA, where its commitment can be tested.
Gibbs said the U.S. would continue to press Iran to "demonstrate through deeds-and not simply words-its willingness to live up to international obligations or face consequences, including sanctions." He said that the U.S. expected Iran to comply with all U.N. resolutions, including those calling for full cooperation with IAEA inspectors and the suspension of Iran's enrichment of uranium. "Given Iran's repeated failure to live up to its own commitments, and the need to address fundamental issues related to Iran's nuclear program, the United States and the international community continue to have serious concerns," he said.
Despite their frustrations, U.S. officials were cautious not to criticize the Brazilian and Turkish role in pushing a deal that is all but certain to weaken their case for sanctions. The approach contrasted with that of the Bush administration, which initial sought to punish former allies that opposed its quest for a war resolution in Iraq, according to U.N. diplomats.
In the aftermath of the invasion, "allies loyal to the United States were rejected, mocked, and even punished" for their refusal to back a U.N. resolution authorizing military action against Saddam Hussein's government, Chilean U.N. ambassador Heraldo Muñoz wrote in a book on the matter.
But the latest deal came under fire from analysts who said it would do nothing to stop Iran's uranium enrichment and would leave Iran with enough low-enriched uranium to be reprocessed into weapons-grade fuel if Tehran acquires the technological knowhow to do it. "This is a poorly negotiated deal that doesn't serve U.S. interests and may only worsen the situation," said David Albright, a former U.N. nuclear weapon inspector who tracks Iran's nuclear program. "Here you have a subgroup of nations weighing in and saying the enrichment program is not subject to further negotiations."
The arrangement requires Iran to ship 1,200 kilograms of low-enriched uranium to Turkey within the next month. In exchange, Iran will receive fuel rods containing 120 kilograms of a more purified form of reprocessed uranium for Iran's Tehran medical reactor within one year. If any provision of the pact is breached, Turkey would be required to return the uranium to Iran. Turkey and the IAEA (which has not yet signed on) will monitor the stored uranium in Turkey.
The deal hinges on Tehran's ability to negotiate a deal with the France, Russia, the United States, and the IAEA (the so-called Vienna group) to assure the delivery of fuel rods for the research reactor to Iran. "The nuclear fuel exchange is a starting point to begin cooperation and a positive constructive move forward among nations," according to the pact. It should replace and avoid "all kinds of confrontation through refraining from measures, actions, and rhetorical statements that would jeopardize rights and obligations under the NPT."
Iran first expressed interest in the fuel swap after the IAEA presented the proposal to Tehran in October. But Iran quickly reversed course. In the weeks leading up to the deal, the United States has expressed skepticism over Iran's intention to implement a fuel swap. "I have told my counterparts in many capitals around the world that I believe that we will not get any serious response out of the Iranians until after the Security Council acts," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said.
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A senior U.S. diplomat urged Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki at a diplomatic dinner Thursday night to release three American hikers and a FBI agent who are in Iranian custody.
Alejandro Wolff, the second-highest ranking official at the U.S. mission to the United Nations, presented the Iranian diplomat with letters from the families of the four American and asked Iranian to release them.
The unusual exchange came at a dinner Mottaki hosted with representatives of the 15 nations on the U.N. Security Council. Mottaki used the occasion to counter a U.S. and European push for sanctions against Iran for failing to abide by U.N. resolution requiring Tehran cease its enrichment of uranium.
The families of the three American hikers -- Shane M. Bauer, Joshua F. Fattal, and Sarah E. Shroud -- have maintained that they mistakenly entered Iranian territory during a hiking expedition in Kurdistan last summer. Robert Levinson, a former F.B.I agent, disappeared while conducting business in Iran three years ago.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told reporters this week that the fate of the hikers would have to be resolved by Iranian judicial authorities, but that he personally hoped they would be freed. But he has shown no sympathy for Levinson.
The United States has no diplomatic relations with Iran, but Wolff was allowed to attend the dinner. A U.S. official said that Wolff pressed Mottaki at the dinner to abide by "Iran's international obligation" to halt its enrichment of uranium. Wolff also informer Mottaki that a recent Iranian initiative to swap Iran's low enriched uranium for more purified uranium for a medical research reactor in Tehran was "flawed and fell way short" of what is required of Iran. "There was nothing new that moved the ball forward," the official said.
"Iran's Foreign Minister invited U.N. Security Council to dinner, served leftovers, unfortunately he said nothing new," State Department spokesman tweeted today. "We continue to work on a sanctions resolution that will show Iran there are consequences for non-compliance."
The world's five original nuclear states -- Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States -- on Wednesday reaffirmed their commitment to "take concrete and credible steps towards irreversible disarmament" of their nuclear arsenals and to take "concrete steps" to establish the a nuclear-weapons free zone In the Middle East. But the big powers set no fixed deadline for achieving either of those goals, and the United States has made it clear it will not press Israel to eliminate its undeclared nuclear weapons program until there is peace in the Middle East. The so-called P-5 also made no commitment to halt efforts to modernize their nuclear warheads. Still, the U.S. and its nuclear partners signalled a willingness to engage the non-nuclear weapons states on issue they care about, including a pledge to start negotiations in Geneva on a pact providing security assurances for non-nuclear states.
In a joint statement, the five powers raised concerns about the proliferation risks posed by Iran and North Korea's nuclear programs, and proposed reinforcing trade restrictions on nuclear technologies and strengthening the International Atomic Energy Agency's authority to inspect states' nuclear power programs to prevent diversion to a military program. They also proposed that countries that withdraw from the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), as North Korea did in 2003, should be held accountable for any violations of the treaty they may have committed before pulling out.
Below is a copy of the joint statement the nuclear powers presented at the NPT's eighth review conference at U.N. headquarters in New York:
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad warned Tuesday that any prospects for the normalization of relations between Washington and Tehran will end if the United States succeeds in securing U.N. sanctions against Iran.
The Iranian leader also denounced U.S. Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton for shouting "insults" at his country before the U.N. General Assembly, and accused the United States of abusing its power in a fruitless effort to punish Iran and deny its legal right to develop a nuclear energy program.
Speaking at a press conference at the Millennium Hotel, Ahmadinejad denied that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons while blaming the United States for introducing the nuclear-arms race into the modern world. "The first resolution passed against Iran in the U.N. Security Council will mean that relations between Iran and the United States will never be improved," Ahmadinejad told reporters. "Paths to that will be shut."
Ahmadinejad spent much of the past 24 hours in New York seeking to counter criticism of Iran's nuclear activity from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Secretary Clinton, whom he called "an enemy of Iran" on PBS's Charlie Rose Show.
During an address Monday before the U.N. General Assembly, Ban scolded Iran for failing to comply with U.N. obligations to cease enrichment or uranium and to negotiate in good faith with the United States and other big powers. "The onus is on Iran to clarify the doubts and concerns about its program," Ban said in his speech.
Ahmadinejad said that Ban would never have shown him so little respect if Iran were a world power like the United States. But he said he was prepared to seek a diplomatic solution to the nuclear crisis. Ahmadinejad said he would hold talks in Tehran later this month with the leaders of Brazil and Turkey, two non-permanent members of the Security Council, on a proposal aimed at ensuring foreign control over Iran's uranium.
The International Atomic Energy Agency first proposed the plan -- known as the fuel swap -- in October, but after initially agreeing to accept the deal Iran abruptly refused to proceed with talks. The plan was to ship its low-enriched uranium abroad in exchange for a more purified grade of uranium that can be used to fuel a research reactor that produces medical isotopes. Iran announced last month that it has succeeded in enriching its uranium to the 20 percent purity required for fueling the medical reactor.
"We have said that we are ready to engage in a swap of fuel and we feel that if the other parties show even a minimum level of sincerity we can resolve the impasse and the swap will happen," he said. The Iranian leader said even though Iran no longer needs the more highly enriched uranium, he was prepared to entertain a deal to "show our sincerity."
An agreement on a fuel swap would complicate U.S. efforts to maintain support for sanctions. Russia and China only agreed to pursue sanctions after Iran rebuffed their appeals to accept a similar deal. And U.S. and European officials voiced skepticism over Tehran's latest offer.
"Iran has a history of making confusing, contradictory, and inaccurate statements designed to convey the impression that it has adopted a flexible attitude toward the proposal," Clinton told reporters Monday. "But we have seen no indication that Iran is willing to accept the IAEA's October proposal or any variant of that proposal that would achieve the confidence-building goals that were intended."
The Iranian leader said his country has withstood more than 30 years of U.S. sanctions and that it is prepared to endure another round of U.N. sanctions. "While we don't welcome them, we don't fear them either," he said.
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Indonesia announced today that it will seek ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, dropping its demand that it would only do so after United States had ratified the landmark agreement. The announcement marks the most significant non-proliferation commitment by a non-nuclear state at the NPT conference.
"I wish to inform the present august assembly that Indonesia is initiating the process of the ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty," said Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa. "It is our fervent hope that this further demonstration of our commitment to the nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation agenda will encourage other countries that have not ratified the treaty, to do the same."
The test-ban treaty was established in September 1996, and more than 150 states have ratified it. But the pact will not go into force until eight countries with nuclear power programs --China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Iran, Israel, Pakistan, Russia, and North Korea -- ratify the treaty.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who chaired a preparatory commission on the treaty in 1999, has pressed the United States and other governments to ratify the agreement. "The time has come to think seriously about setting a timeframe for ratification," he said Monday. "It has been 15 years since the treaty was opened for signature. Here, too, how long must we wait?"
Most of the declared nuclear powers, including the United States, have observed a moratorium on nuclear tests. But the United States has sought for years to develop technological procedures that would allow it to ensure the effectiveness of its nuclear weapons without having to test explosives.
The Obama administration supports the ratification of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty, but it has not put it forward for consideration by the U.S. Senate because of concerns that it will be voted down. But Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton today reiterated support for the pact. "We have made a commitment to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty," she said.
The U.N.'s top leadership used a high-level nuclear conference to publicly scold Iranian leader Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for defying U.N. resolutions barring Iran's enrichment of uranium and failing to fully cooperate with nuclear inspections, while the United States and its European allies staged a walkout to protest Tehran's nuclear stance.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the U.N.'s chief nuclear-arms watchdog, Yukiya Amano, blamed the Iranian president, who listened politely from the audience, for provoking his government's diplomatic standoff with the United States and other key powers over Tehran's nuclear program.
The remarks by Ban constituted an extraordinary rebuke of a world leader in the U.N.'s General Assembly chamber, and it reflected mounting concern that Tehran's nuclear policy threaten to undermine the ongoing review conference of the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
"I call on Iran to comply fully with Security Council resolutions and fully cooperate fully with the International Atomic Energy Agency," Ban said at the opening of the nearly month-long conference. "Let us be clear: The onus is on Iran to clarify the doubts and concerns about its program."
Ban urged the Iranian leader to "engage constructively" in international talks aimed at resolving Iran's nuclear standoff with the U.N. Security Council. He said Tehran should access a proposal by the IAEA to ship its nuclear fuel abroad in exchange for a more purified form of uranium to power Iran's medical research reactor. The plan enjoys the backing of China, Russia, the United States, and other key powers.
In a rare breach in protocol, Ban left the General Assembly hall for another meeting shortly before President Ahmadinejad -- the only head of state to address the nuclear conference -- delivered his speech. When Ahmadinejad took to the podium, he responded directly to Ban.
"The secretary-general said that Iran must accept the fuel exchange and that the ball is now in Iran's court," Ahmadinejad said. "I'd like to tell you and inform him as well that we'd accepted that from that start and I'd like to announce once again that's an accepted deal. Therefore, we have now thrown the ball in the court of those who should accept our proposal and embark on cooperation with us."
Iran has repeatedly said in the past that it is willing to discuss the fuel swap, only to reverse course. It has recently been engaged in talks with Turkey and Brazil on a plan to revive talks on the deal. But the United States and its European partners have expressed skepticism, saying that Iran's latest interest in talks is aimed at stalling a U.S.-backed initiative to impose a fourth round of sanctions on Tehran. Russia and China have cited Iran's refusal to accept such a deal in justifying their decision to pursue U.N. sanctions.
The Iranian leader used his speech to deliver a fiery attack on the United States for introducing nuclear weapons into the world and fueling the global nuclear-arms race. He accused Washington and other nuclear states of manipulating the international arms-control system, including the International Atomic Energy Agency, to preserve its nuclear privileges while pressuring non-nuclear states to give up their rights to produce their own nuclear fuel for energy purposes.
"Those who committed the first atomic bombardment are considered to be among the most hated in history," he said. "Regrettably, the government of the United States has not only used nuclear weapons, but it also continues to threaten to use such weapons against other countries, including Iran."
The NPT established the essential bargain that has governed the role of nuclear weapons during the Cold War. The five original nuclear powers -- the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain -- were allowed to keep their nuclear weapons, as long as they agreed to take steps towards the ultimate elimination of those weapons. The non-nuclear states agreed to foreswear nuclear weapons, but were granted the right to develop peaceful nuclear energy programs, subject to U.N. monitoring.
While the treaty has succeeded in stemming the spread of nuclear weapons, a number of states, India, Israel, and Pakistan, have developed nuclear weapons programs outside the treaty. North Korea, which withdrew from the treaty organization in 2003, secretly developed a nuclear-weapons program under the nose of nuclear inspectors. The IAEA's director general, Amano, expressed concerns about Iran's and Syria's refusal to cooperate with its efforts to determine whether those countries are pursuing secret nuclear weapons programs.
In his address to the General Assembly, Amano echoed Ban's tough approach, saying that his agency "remains unable to confirm that all nuclear material is in peaceful activities because Iran has not provided the necessary cooperation."
Amano said that the need to bolster his organization's ability to strengthen monitoring of countries' nuclear programs has increased as the threat of climate change has fueled renewed interest in nuclear energy. He said more than 60 countries are considering starting up nuclear-energy programs, and as many as 25 countries will bring nuclear power plants online by 2030. "Any expansion in its use must be done safely and securely, and without increasing the proliferation risk," Amano said.
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Next week, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will meet in New York with diplomats from more than 180 countries at the eighth review conference of the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (pdf), the Cold War pact that determines who can have nuclear weapons and who can't. The nuclear accord obliges the five original nuclear powers to disarm while exacting a pledge from other countries not to pursue nuclear weapons. In exchange, those that foreswore atomic weapons were assured the right to develop nuclear energy programs, under the monitoring of U.N. inspectors.
The Obama administration will seek to use the nearly month-long conference to plug gaps in a landmark agreement that has significantly limited the spread of nuclear weapons but enabled a small number of nuclear proliferators, including Saddam Hussein and Kim Jong Il, to develop clandestine atomic weapons programs under the nose of U.N. weapons inspectors.
The nuclear conference has gained increased urgency as concerns about global warming have fueled renewed interest in nuclear power, and the prospects of lucrative international trade in nuclear fuel. The U.S. wants to strengthen U.N. monitoring of nuclear-energy programs and to impose greater controls over the production and trade in enriched of uranium to ensure that Iran and other potential proliferators will not succeed in completing another nuclear weapons program. But American diplomats -- who see the conference as an opportunity to reinvigorate the NPT -- insist that they respect and recognize the rights of non-weapons states to develop peaceful nuclear energy programs.
Still, U.S. President Barack Obama is facing a major challenge to his nuclear vision from countries in the developing world that feel the nuclear treaty has been applied unfairly. Many states harbor a festering resentment against the major nuclear powers, saying they have used the NPT to establish an entrenched class system that guarantees their own nuclear defense, and that of allies like India, Israel, and Pakistan, but exposes the vast majority of U.N. members to the threat of nuclear annihilation. They are loath to accept new demands imposed by the big powers that would curb their own rights to develop nuclear power, or to participate in a burgeoning nuclear trade.
Call it the nuclear caste system. The Obama administration's ability to balance the interests of these various players and to strike a new nuclear bargain in the coming weeks may well determine whether the frayed nuclear bargain can survive another generation.
The U.S. effort to secure U.N. support for sanctions against Iran stalled this week as the Iranian leader unveiled plans to travel to New York to challenge any U.N. agreement to constrain Tehran's nuclear program.
Last week, U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden voiced confidence that the United States would secure passage of a sanctions resolution by next week. "I believe you will see a sanction regime coming out by the end of this month, beginning of next month," Biden said Thursday on ABC's The View talk show.
But Security Council members said the U.S. and other big powers negotiating an Iran sanctions resolution "are not even nearing the end game," said a council diplomat. The official said that Iran negotiations would continue throughout May alongside a major review conference on the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The United States and its European allies are seeking passage of a resolution that would impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Tehran, restrict investment in Iran's energy sector, and authorize states to seize Iranian vessels suspected of ferrying banned weapons materials. U.S. and European officials had hoped to have concluded the talks before the nuclear conference begins on May 3.
The Iranian leader has requested a visa to travel to New York to attend the eighth review conference of the NPT, according to Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. The Iranian president is expected to deliver a speech before the conference on Monday morning, while U.S. Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton is expected to address the gathering in the afternoon.
The permanent five members of the Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States -- plus Germany have been negotiating the text of a new sanctions resolution against Iran. The United States had hoped to conclude the negotiations on Iran sanctions before the start of the nuclear conference, fearing protracted discussions could undercut U.S. efforts to push for reforms on the treaty.
Rice told reporters outside the Security Council Wednesday that the key powers "are in very intensive discussions in New York and in capitals with our colleagues in the P5+1." She said she expected the council to adopt a sanctions resolution in the coming weeks.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters at a luncheon that it would be "helpful" if the Iranian leader came to New York with some "constructive proposal to resolve the Iranian nuclear issue." But he said he is "unaware of any concrete ideas" he intended to unveil before the nuclear conference.
Ban said that the "onus" of assuring the international community that Tehran is not developing nuclear weapons rests on the Iranian leader. "The burden is on you," he said. "You have not satisfied the request of the international community" to demonstrate that Iran's nuclear program is peaceful.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has requested a visa to attend a high-level conference next week at U.N. headquarters to review progress on the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, according to senior U.N. officials and diplomats.
The development raises the prospect that the Iranian leader may use the high-profile conference to challenge efforts by the Obama administration to rally international support for measures aimed at preventing Tehran and other potential proliferators from acquiring nuclear technology. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton will lead the U.S. delegation in the nuclear talks, which begins Monday.
The move comes as the permanent five members of the Security Council --Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States -- and Germany have been negotiating the text of a new sanctions resolution against Iran. The United States had hoped to conclude the negotiations on Iran sanctions before the start of the nuclear conference, fearing protracted discussions could undercut U.S. efforts to push for reforms on the treaty.
"I believe you will see a sanction regime coming out by the end of this month, beginning of next month," U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden said Thursday on ABC's The View talk show.
The United States and its European allies are seeking passage of a resolution that would impose a comprehensive arms embargo on Tehran, restrict investment in Iran's energy industry, and authorize the seizure of Iranian vessels suspected of transporting banned weapons.
U.N. diplomats said that Ahmadinejad wants to address the nuclear gathering on Monday, the same day that Clinton speaks. An Iranian official declined to confirm whether the Iranian president planned to come.
U.N. diplomats said it remained unclear whether Ahmadinejad would use the event to launch a political attack on the U.S. and European push for sanctions, or whether he would announce a new deal aimed at heading off council sanctions.
Iran announced earlier this week that it is willing to restart a discussion with U.N. Security Council members over a nuclear fuel-swap proposal by the International Atomic Energy Agency. The proposal would allow Iran to ship its low-enriched uranium abroad in exchange for a purer grade of uranium that could be used to fuel and Iranian research reactor that produces nuclear isotopes for medical purposes.
"There is a possibility for an exchange of views," Iran's foreign minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said Tuesday, following a meeting with his Turkish counterpart.
Iran has repeatedly expressed interest in the fuel-swap arrangement, only to change its mind. China and Russia, who are reluctant to impose sanctions on Iran, have been pressing Tehran without success in recent months to reconsider and accept the fuel-swap deal. U.N. council diplomats said they suspect that Iran has revived the issue to stall discussion on a fourth round of U.N. sanctions.
Turkey and Brazil, both of which hold nonpermanent seats on the Security Council, have also begun talks with Iran aimed at striking a deal on the fuel swap. On Tuesday, Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, following his meeting with Mottaki, said Turkey would be willing to serve as a mediator in a fuel exchange.
For more than a week, the United States and Russia have been basking in the glow of international praise for their commitment to eliminate thousands of nuclear warheads at an April 8 signing ceremony in Prague. But now, Washington, Moscow and three other original nuclear powers are facing an onslaught of criticism from developing countries as they detail their positions ahead of a major review conference next month on the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Algeria. Egypt, Kuwait, Libya, and Syria and others made it clear at a disarmament meeting at the U.N. General Assembly Monday that they would oppose a series of U.S.-backed measures, including a proposal to strengthen U.N. scrutiny of countries' nuclear energy programs, designed to rein in nuclear proliferators like North Korea and Iran. The May 3-28 nuclear review conference requires any final document be adopted by consensus, providing any state with veto power over any change to the nuclear treaty.
The U.N. event provided a preview of what is expected to be a highly acrimonious feud between the world's atomic powers and the developing world over nuclear rights and responsibilities. It will require some agile diplomatic skills to prevent it from undercutting U.S. President Barack Obama's bid to place the nuclear treaty at the center of his efforts to contain the spread of nuclear weapons.
The United States' confidential U.N. sanctions text calls for a comprehensive arms embargo on Iran, allows foreign states to seize Iranian ships suspected of carrying materials linked to its nuclear program, and curtails Tehran's ability to raise new investment in the country's energy sector, according to U.N.-based diplomats.
Susan E. Rice, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, outlined the U.S. proposal today in a meeting at the U.S. mission with the U.N.'s big powers -- China, Russia, France, Britain, and Germany. The United States hopes to adopt a sanctions resolution before the end of April, but some council officials said it was more likely it would pass in June.
The text under negotiation has been written by the United States, with input from Washington's European partners. It has been crafted to target senior officers in Iran's Revolutionary Guard Corps and a network of Iranian companies and financial institutions it controls. The U.S. believes these entities have been used to underwrite Tehran's military proxies throughout the Middle East and fund Iran's ballistic missile and nuclear enrichment programs.
China objected strenuously to the U.S. proposal for sanctions on energy investments during a big-power meeting last week in New York on the text, and insisted that Beijing would not accept any provisions that challenged its commercial interests in Iran, according to council diplomats. But Beijing has finally begun to engage in direct negotiations, offering some suggestions during the past 24 hours on how the U.S. should modify its text.
The negotiations continued as Iran announced that it had made a critical breakthrough in its efforts to produce a self-sufficient nuclear fuel program. The country's nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, said that Iran had enriched uranium to 20 percent purity, well above the previous 3.5 percent level achieved by Iran's nuclear scientists. Iran requires uranium enriched to that level to fuel its medical research reactors. The purity of Iran's enriched uranium is still well below the 90 percent level required to produce a nuclear bomb, but it moves it far closer to being able to produce a nuclear weapon.
The developments follow a high-level meeting in Washington Monday between U.S. President Barack Obama and Chinese leader Hu Jintao. After the meeting, U.S. officials said that Obama received a commitment from Hu to continue negotiations on a new sanctions resolution. But the Chinese have yet to agree to endorse any specific measures against Tehran.
Today's meeting at the U.S. mission to the United Nations represents the first time the six powers -- known as the P-5+1 -- have begun substantive negotiations on the U.S. text. During a three-hour meeting at the British mission last week, China, Russia, and others simply restated their positions on U.N. sanctions. Beijing and Moscow both say they remain committed to resolving the nuclear dispute with Iran through negotiations. They both have pressed Iran to accept an offer to swap its enriched uranium for nuclear fuel from Russia or France for use in a medical research reactor.
But Russia's U.N. ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin voiced frustration. "I don't think any of us wants to impose sanctions; what we want is to have a diplomatic solution," Churkin said. But "if Iran wants to negotiate it should start negotiating."
Security Council diplomats say that the passage of the last Iran sanctions resolution, 1803, took more than six weeks of intense bargaining in New York to conclude, and that was after their capitals had already agreed to the general parameters to the talks. They believe the current negotiations may take even longer, given that the key powers are essentially starting from scratch. The timing has also been complicated by the presence of Lebanon in the Security Council presidency next month. Lebanon's cabinet includes a key bloc from the Shiite movement Hezbollah, which receives financial and military backing from Iran.
Here's a link to the key nuclear negotiators in New York. The U.S. proposal targets four key sectors of the Iranian economy.
ARMS: The U.N. Security Council has previously imposed a partial arms embargo on Iran that is crafted to prevent Iran from trading in ballistic missile or nuclear technology, and which bans the exports of most weapons. The United States and its European partners want to close the gap with a total ban on imports and exports. But Russia, which supplies Iran with military materials, objects to the comprehensive arms embargo. Moscow and Beijing have insisted that any new sanctions should narrowly target Iran's capacity to developed ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons.
ENERGY: The U.S. wants to bar new foreign investment in the Iranian energy sector, according to diplomats familiar with the U.S. plan. But it would not bar the export or import of oil and other petroleum-based products. China's U.N. ambassador Li Baodong objected to the provision last week during a closed-door meeting of the key U.N. powers negotiating U.N. sanctions. Russia supports China. "If we speak about energy sanctions, I'll give you my opinion. I think that we are unlikely to achieve a consolidated position in the world community on this issue," Russian President Dmitry Medvedev said in a recent interview with ABC television, according to Reuters.
SHIPPING: The U.S. text would permit the seizure of Iranian vessels on the high seas suspected of ferrying cargo linked to Iran's ballistic missile and nuclear program. It would also seek to make it harder for Iran to by insurance on Iranian vessels. The Obama administration sees last year's resolution on North Korea as a model for tightening sanctions on banned Iranian trade. In June, the Security Council voted to authorize states for the first time to board North Korean vessels at sea if they were suspected of carrying banned cargo. The resolution has led to increased seizure of North Korean vessels. But the Chinese have argued that North Korea, a declared nuclear power, deserves a tougher approach than Iran, whose nuclear ambitions remain ambiguous and unproven. The United States and its European allies have countered that sanctions are supposed to be preventive instead of punitive, and that it makes sense to do whatever it can to dissuade Tehran from pursuing nuclear weapons.
FINANCIAL: Rice will be looking to sanction Iran's central bank and press for additional targeted travel and financial restrictions against officials and businesses linked to Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, including a group of companies recently sanctioned by the Treasury Department. A natural target is Revolutionary Guard General Rostam Qasemi. who is also the commander of Khatam al-Anbiya Construction Headquarters, the engineering arm that Treasury says helps the Guards generate income and fund their operations. A previous sanctions resolution simply encouraged states to "exercise vigilance" to ensure that their financial dealing with Iranian banks, including Bank Melli and Bank Saderat, did not result in funds being diverted to banned military programs. The United States wants to strengthen those measures. Both Russia and China have argued that it would be improper to sanction Revolutionary Guard activities that are unrelated to Iran's banned nuclear and missile activities.
Mohamed ElBaradei, the U.N.'s former nuclear watchdog, has unleashed a barrage of Twitter attacks against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's government, accusing it in a series of barbed tweets of torturing inmates, stifling dissent, and shamefully beating peaceful demonstrators.
"Detentions and beatings during peaceful demonstration is an insult to the dignity of every Egyptian. Shame," read the Egyptian arms-control expert's official Twitter feed in one of several postings this morning. Another tweet reads: "Proposed extension of emergency law that deprives Egyptians of basic human rights exposes a regime afraid of its own people. Shame."
The remarks follow a police crackdown on an Egyptian youth movement that was rallying outside the Egyptian parliament for reforms that would make country's election laws fairer for challenges to the official party. The group, which was formed on Facebook in 2008 and is known as the April 6 movement, supports ElBaradei. Under Egypt's emergency law, which was imposed after Mubarak took power in 1981, demonstrations are severely restricted.
ElBaradei's tweets have become increasingly critical in the days following the arrest over the weekend of the publisher of a book about the former nuke chief. "The detention of a publisher of a book about me and my ideas of reform shows a repressive regime afraid of its own shadows," ElBaradei tweeted on Saturday.
ElBaradei recently returned to Egypt to promote political reform in his native country and he is weighing a possible run for the presidency in 2011 elections. Mubarak is widely believed to be grooming his son, Gamal Mubarak, to succeed him.
ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who challenged the Bush administration's claims of an Iraqi nuclear weapon program, is immensely popular in his homeland. ElBaradei has used social networking sites, including FaceBook and Twitter, to advance his movement. (Though he told Joshua Hammer, who profiled ElBaradei in the April 5 New Yorker, "They never even consulted me about this Facebook thing. I had no clue.")
In a recent interview with Foreign Policy, ElBaradei described his ambitions in returning to Egypt. "I would like to be, at this time, an agent to push Egypt toward a more democratic and transparent regime, with all of its implications for the rest of the Arab world. If I am able to do that, I will be very happy because we need to achieve democracy in the Arab world as fast as we can. Democracy meaning empowering people, democracy meaning a proper economic and social development, tolerance -- it means building up modern societies."
Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.