August 01, 2008
WASHINGTON -- Iran sought but failed to win support from nonaligned nations this week for lifting U.N. sanctions and kicking the U.N. Security Council out of the dispute over its nuclear program, U.S. officials said Friday.
Although Iran did get a broad endorsement of its right to peaceful uses of nuclear power, the officials said the 120-nation Nonaligned Movement rebuffed its attempt for total backing of its position at a high-level conference it hosted in Tehran on Wednesday, ahead of a weekend deadline for Iran to respond to an offer of incentives to halt suspect activities.
A final statement adopted by foreign ministers did not include several key Iranian-proposed passages that called for the lifting of sanctions and rejected the authority of the U.N. Security Council in dealing with the nuclear matter, the officials said.
The United States is not a member of the nonaligned group but learned of the negotiations over the statement by representatives of countries that are members, said officials who spoke to reporters at the State Department on condition of anonymity to discuss their confidential briefings.
One U.S. official said the conference, which operates on a consensus basis, had deadlocked on portions of a draft statement presented by Iran that demanded the removal of sanctions and dismissed U.N. authority as well as affirmed Iran's right to possess the entire nuclear fuel cycle, something world powers object to.
The official said that some members, notably Cuba, Belarus and Venezuela - who all have poor relations with the United States - spoke in favor of the Iranian draft, but other opposing countries prevailed in watering down the statement.
Copies of the draft and the final statement provided by the U.S. officials show the Iranians unsuccessfully tried to get approval for a paragraph that said "sanctions imposed on Iran for its nuclear program are of a political nature and should be promptly removed."
That paragraph, which also said there is "no legal basis" for the U.N. Security Council to be involved in the issue, does not appear in the final statement.
The United States, Israel and others claim the program is a cover for atomic weapons development. Iran rejects the charges and maintains the program is intended only for civilian energy production.
After the final statement was adopted Wednesday, Iranian officials hailed it as a victory. Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, the country's top representative to the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, said it sends a "strong positive signal that the only way is negotiation and dialogue" over the nuclear standoff.
Iran faces a deadline this weekend to accept or reject incentives offered it by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing of uranium, which can produce the ingredients for a bomb.
The Security Council has slapped three sets of sanctions on Iran over the issue and a fourth set looms if it rejects the incentives package.
Only days remain until the expiration of an informal two-week deadline set July 19 by six world powers for Tehran to show it is willing to stop expanding its enrichment program, at least temporarily, in exchange for their commitment to stop seeking new U.N sanctions.
The offer is meant to create space for the start of in-depth negotiations that the six hope will end in Iran agreeing to permanently mothball its enrichment program in exchange for a package of economic and political concessions. Iran has thus far given no sign it will accept.