Tehran: UN must ditch plan for 'illegal' sanctions

A jubilant Iranian leadership called on Tuesday for plans for new United Nations sanctions against the country to be dropped in the face of the United States intelligence report confirming it had abandoned its nuclear weapons programme.

Existing sanctions had been rendered “illegal” and the report showed the Bush administration’s warnings about Iran’s intentions to be “baseless and unreliable”, said Iran’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Mohammad Ali Hosseini.

The National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) report disclosed on Monday for the first time that Iran had not been pursuing a nuclear weapons development programme for the past four years.

Its conclusions forced America’s European allies, as well as fellow United Nations Security Council members, to re-evaluate policy towards Iran on Tuesday. The report will make it harder for the US, Britain and France to persuade China and Russia to impose tougher UN Security Council sanctions, despite Bush’s assertion at a press conference that Iran remained dangerous.

A statement from the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has long been at odds with the US on the Iran crisis, said the new US estimate vindicated the agency’s position that there was no concrete evidence of a weapons programme.

“The director general [Mohamed ElBaradei] believes that this new assessment by the US should help to defuse the current crisis,” the statement said, but it called on Iran to improve its transparency to the point that the IAEA could certify the peaceful intent of its nuclear ambitions.

China’s ambassador to the UN, Guangya Wang, said the report had changed the situation. Asked whether it made the prospect of new UN sanctions less likely, he told reporters: “I think the council members will have to consider that, because I think we all start from the presumption that now things have changed.”

While the chances of a US military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities were receding, the Israeli government continued to insist that Tehran posed a serious danger and that the US was misreading the intelligence.

Against a background of triumphalism in Tehran, Hosseini said in a statement that the findings destroyed the legal basis for last year’s decision to refer Iran’s case to the Security Council.
The council has passed two sets of sanctions and is debating a resolution that would impose a fresh embargo. However, Iranian officials claimed that this was now unlikely.

The report was greeted as a vindication by supporters of Iran’s radical president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has fought a bruising battle for control over nuclear policy with pragmatists who have accused him of pushing Iran towards a military confrontation with the US.

Ahmadinejad’s spokesperson, Gholamhossein Elham, said: “Americans should pay the price for their words.”

Iran has said throughout the crisis that it has embarked on a uranium enrichment process for purely civilian purposes, to help meet its electricity and other energy needs. But the US and Britain continue to suspect uranium enrichment is a first step towards securing a nuclear weapon.

US and European diplomats said on Tuesday that the new intelligence estimate would not derail movement towards a new set of sanctions. A senior Russian official agreed, adding the new measures could come in the next few weeks.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, said suspicions of Iran’s intentions would continue as long as Tehran persisted in enriching uranium in the absence of any nuclear power stations in which the fuel could be used.

“That’s why people have fears about what the enrichment is for. That’s why they have fears about the dangers of weaponisation,” he said.

On Saturday senior officials from the five permanent members of the Security Council and Germany—the six-strong contact group—met in Paris and agreed in principle on a new set of UN sanctions.

Participants said Russia and China, which had hitherto been reluctant to tighten sanctions, had given a green light to a limited range of targeted measures. The details are being discussed by phone between the six capitals this week.

Moscow and Beijing appeared to have softened their resistance after an IAEA report last month found that Iran had rapidly expanded its uranium enrichment.

What they said: Intelligence reports

2005 Assess with high confidence that Iran currently is determined to develop nuclear weapons despite its international obligations and international pressure, but we do not assess that Iran is immovable

2007 Judge with high confidence that in fall 2003 Tehran halted its nuclear weapons programme. Judge with high confidence that the halt lasted at least several years (DoE [Department of Energy] and NIC [National Intelligence Council] have moderate confidence that the halt to those activities represents a halt to Iran’s entire nuclear weapons programme). Assess with moderate confidence Tehran had not restarted its nuclear weapons programme as of mid-2007, but we do not know whether it currently intends to develop nuclear weapons. Judge with high confidence that the halt was directed primarily in response to increasing international scrutiny and pressure resulting from exposure of Iran’s previously undeclared nuclear work - Guardian Unlimited Â

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