PRAGUE, August 31, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Today is the deadline for the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to report in New York on Iran's degree of compliance with demands it stop uranium enrichment. The IAEA is expected to submit a negative report since Iran has given no sign of heeding the UN's calls.
Just hours before the UN's nuclear watchdog is to make its report, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad made it clear there will be no last-minute compliance.
"But they should all know that the Iranian nation will not yield to pressure and aggression even a bit and will not accept any violations of its rights," he said on Iranian television.
Ahmadinejad has often cited Iran's right to pursue all aspects of a nuclear-energy program, including uranium enrichment. Uranium enrichment can be used to produce nuclear fuel or, at high levels of enrichment, nuclear weapons material.
With last-minute surprises all but ruled out, there appears little doubt the IAEA report will fault Tehran for defying the UN's demand to immediately halt uranium enrichment.
That demand was stated in a July 31 resolution that gave Iran one month to comply or face the possibility of UN punitive measures. The resolution says "appropriate measures" will be taken in the event of noncompliance, but does not specify steps.
The passage of the resolution under Article 41 of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter allows the Security Council to opt for economic sanctions and other measures that stop short of using armed force.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton made it clear on August 30 that Washington would press for international discussion of sanctions the minute the IAEA submits a negative report.
"At that [deadline], if [the Iranians] have not suspended all uranium-enrichment activities, they will not be in compliance with the resolution, and at that point, the steps that the foreign ministers have agreed upon previously, including the foreign ministers of Russia and China -- including the foreign ministers of Russia and China -- we should begin to talk about how to implement those [sanctions]," Bolton said.
U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on August 30 that Washington's offensive would begin with trying to enlist support for drafting a new resolution imposing sanctions.
"Early next week, [U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns] will probably travel to Europe, then I would expect you will really see the focus shift to New York with John Bolton negotiating specific language of the resolution.," McCormack said.
Defying the UN
Burns is Washington's top negotiator in the Iranian nuclear crisis. He is almost certain to emphasize that Iran has defied the United Nations by actually stepping up its controversial nuclear activities in recent days.
Iran barred nuclear inspectors from its uranium-enrichment development facility at Natanz on August 21 as it is reported to have started a new round of enrichment efforts there on August 29.
At the same time, Iran formally opened a heavy-water-production plant at Arak on August 26. That is to supply a planned heavy-water nuclear reactor that could produce isotopes for medical and industrial use but also could provide plutonium for nuclear weapons.
The United States, Britain, France, and Germany share concerns Iran is secretly trying to acquire a nuclear weapons capability. Along with China and Russia, they backed the UN Security Council resolution demanding Iran halt uranium enrichment.
The five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany also offered Iran a package of economic incentives in return for any halt. However, Iran replied to that proposal only by calling for further negotiations.
Finding Unified Position
Now, the test will be whether the world powers can agree on a united position over imposing specific sanctions.
Washington and London have taken the hardest line so far in the crisis, while France and Germany -- both of which have substantial trade relations with Iran -- have been more moderate.
China and Russia -- with far stronger trade and political ties to Tehran -- have repeatedly said they want to see the crisis solved by negotiation only.
U.S. diplomats have said Washington will likely try to gain support for a strategy of gradually escalated sanctions, possibly over a period of years.
AP reported that early sanction proposals could focus on international refusal to grant entry visas to people engaged in Iran's nuclear program and a freeze on their assets.
Washington has previously also said it would like to see a ban on the sale of missile and nuclear technology to Iran. Washington pressed Moscow unsuccessfully earlier this year to voluntarily suspend an arms deal with Tehran.
Can Sanctions Work?
Meanwhile, it remains unclear whether any sanctions program could force Tehran to change its behavior. Shannon Kile, a nuclear expert at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute in Sweden, says there are divisions in the Iranian government over how hard a line to take in the showdown.
"What is interesting is that you are seeing a little bit of nuanced differences coming out of the statements that are being made by Iranian officials, whereby the [Foreign Ministry] is taking, I think, a little more conciliatory line and people like [Iranian chief nuclear negotiator] Ali Larijani and the Supreme National Security Council are pushing a little bit tougher line," Kile said. "And I think what will be interesting to see is how that internal dynamic plays out because that obviously is going to have a big impact on how the international community is able to engage Iran."
Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi said in Tokyo today that Tehran is confident of reaching a negotiated settlement over its nuclear program and that he hopes negotiations can start "as soon as possible."
But Iranian President Ahmadinejad said on August 29 that Iran is ready for all eventualities. "A country capable of producing its own nuclear fuel can also overcome sanctions," he said. "We are capable of defending our rights and are prepared for all possible scenarios."
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