As envoys from Germany and the five permanent nations on the U.N. Security Council gathered in Paris yesterday for talks on Iran's nuclear program, an Iranian official renewed threats that his country would retaliate against Israel if the United States took military action against Iran. Tehran said that it is continuing its nuclear enrichment program.
U.S. officials say they are pursuing a diplomatic solution to the dispute over Iran's nuclear program, but have said repeatedly that all options, including military ones, are being considered. Iran says its nuclear program is only for producing energy, but the United States and its European allies contend that Iran is preparing to build weapons.
Officials from the United States, France, Britain, China and Russia as well as Germany scheduled talks in Paris on creating a common platform to deal with the issue. The talks follow a report last week by the International Atomic Energy Agency that said Iran has drastically curtailed cooperation with nuclear inspectors over the past month as it has sped forward with nuclear enrichment.
R. Nicholas Burns, undersecretary of state for political affairs, said at a briefing that the United States is not taking any options off the table. "We have not lost hope in diplomacy," he said, but "we are not going to accept a nuclear weapons future" for Iran.
Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, arrives in Washington today for talks with President Bush in the role of mediator between the United States and Russia over how to respond to Iran's nuclear ambitions. She is expected to tell Bush that the international community must continue "step by step" in trying to find a diplomatic solution.
"Military options are not on the table," said a German official who requested anonymity. He said the world community had worked together to isolate Tehran.
"It is a step-by-step process," he said. "It is important to make Iran aware that it is getting itself into a position of isolation."
Iranian officials have said that any military strike against their country would be met by a severe response that could ignite a broader regional conflict.
Iran asked the United Nations on Monday to take a stand against American threats that it said included nuclear strikes and that were "in total contempt of international law."
In a letter to Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Javad Zarif, Iran's ambassador to the United Nations, noted recent comments by Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on ways to halt Iran's nuclear program and news reports of Pentagon planning for attacks on nuclear facilities in Iran.
Israel will be Iran's first target in response to any "evil" act by the United States, a senior commander in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, Rear Adm. Mohammad-Ebrahim Dehqani was quoted as saying by Iran's student news agency ISNA and other news agencies yesterday.
"We have announced that wherever America does something evil, the first place that we target will be Israel," he said.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran has called for Israel to be wiped off the map and said the country is a constant threat, comments that were largely part of his strategy of appealing to the Arab world.
Ahmadinejad announced last month that Iran had joined the group of nuclear nations when it enriched uranium to 3.5 percent to be used in power plants, a level of purity that, if enough could be produced, might fuel a nuclear reactor. If enriched to higher levels, it could be used to make nuclear bombs.
The head of the country's Atomic Energy Organization, Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, said yesterday that Iran has enriched uranium to 4.8 percent purity but that enrichment above 5 percent was not on the agenda.
Last month, the Security Council adopted a nonbinding statement urging Iran to stop enriching uranium and asked for the IAEA report released last week.
Iran's failure to comply with a Security Council deadline to freeze enrichment all but guarantees a lengthy struggle in the council over how to contain Tehran's nuclear ambitions.
The United States, Britain and France are preparing a resolution to be circulated to council members. The resolution would require Iran to stop nuclear enrichment under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter, which makes compliance mandatory under international law and holds out the possibility of economic penalties and military action.
China and Russia are expected to object to any measure that imposes sanctions on Iran, and weeks of negotiations are likely.
"The Security Council has no option but to proceed with the Chapter VII," Burns said, according to news agencies.