The U.S. and other world powers will assess the impact of sanctions on Iran over its nuclear pursuits at a meeting today at the United Nations, while holding out the prospect of diplomacy to resolve the dispute.
Rice cautioned last week not to "expect anything dramatic" from today's meeting and said the governments would examine where they stand on "the pressure side, as well as engagement" in their strategy to shift Iran's position. Iran has rejected demands that it slow its nuclear program, amid international concerns the effort is designed to create a weapons capability.
"Iran has to demonstrate that it is prepared to engage constructively," State Department spokesman Philip J. Crowley told reporters in New York late yesterday. "If it is, we'll respond."
China and Russia voted with the U.S., Britain and France on June 9 as the UN Security Council adopted its fourth set of sanctions on Iran, intended to prevent development of nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles. All of the UN resolutions demand that Iran stop enriching uranium, the key ingredient for producing nuclear power or bombs.
So far, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has sent mixed signals about his stance. He told ABC's "This Week" program on Sept. 19 that Iran was "ready to discuss" its nuclear program with a group of countries that includes the U.S. Yesterday he said that a U.S. attack on Iran to destroy its nuclear facilities would start a war unlike any America has ever experienced.
"What we do is legal," Ahmadinejad said at a meeting with invited reporters yesterday in New York, according to the New York Times. "The United States has never entered a real war, not in Vietnam, nor in Afghanistan, nor even World War II. War is just not bombing someplace. When it starts it has no limits."
In July, the U.S. blocked access to the American financial system for banks doing business in Iran. The European Union followed, banning investment and sales of equipment to Iran's oil and natural-gas industries.
Stuart Levey, the U.S. Treasury Department official who is an architect of the financial pressure, said Sept. 20 in Washington that Iran is "struggling to mitigate the effects of sanctions."
Iran, home to the world's No. 2 oil and gas reserves, insists it wants to develop nuclear technology for peaceful purposes. Its nuclear program has been under UN investigation since 2003, and inspectors say Iran hasn't given them sufficient access or evidence to prove the program is civilian in nature.
"The effort must be concentrated outside the UN now," Sami Alfaraj, head of the Kuwait Center for Strategic Studies, said in a telephone interview from Washington. "There is not much to be done there. We are in a stage where we need to fine tune what already exists and put Iran on notice that it may risk further sanctions in the future if and only if it does this or that."
Limits on Pressure
Though Rice and U.K. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant said on Sept. 15 that the Security Council should "consider an appropriate response" to Iran's launch in August of a missile that could be adapted to carry nuclear weapons, that is unlikely, according to Ilan Berman, vice president of the Washington-based American Foreign Policy Council.
The six nations "move along at the pace of its most grudging members," Berman said. He said China's energy demands are driving promises of investment in oil development in Iran.
For the moment, Berman said, the sanctions track is a "dead process."
Robert J. Einhorn, the U.S. State Department's special adviser on enforcement of Iran and North Korea sanctions, will visit China next week.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, speaking yesterday at the UN, appeared to criticize sanctions imposed by the U.S., EU and other nations such as South Korea following the Security Council action in June.
"We cannot help but express our serious concern with the persisting practice of unilateral coercive measures," Lavrov said, without naming any countries. He said such measures exceed the authority given by the Security Council and "must be brought to an end."
One of President Barack Obama's main messages on Iran during his three days in New York will be that the engagement track isn't dead, according to Ben Rhodes, the U.S. deputy national security adviser for strategic communications.
"I think he intends to make very clear what he has always said, which is that the door is open to the Iranian government," Rhodes said. "The door is open to them having a better relationship with the United States. The president again will want to underscore and continue to underscore that his is a dual-track approach. Sanctions are not an end in themselves."