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Security Council calls on Iran to halt uranium enrichment

WASHINGTON—The United Nations Security Council on Wednesday called on Iran to stop enriching uranium and resolve concerns that it's developing nuclear weapons, but the statement wasn't legally binding, and it was watered down in response to demands from Russia and China.

The Security Council gave Iran 30 days to comply, but Javad Zarif, the Iranian ambassador to the United Nations, rejected the statement, saying the issue "is only about Iran's rights" and that his country "is allergic to pressure and intimidation."

The U.N. effort to curtail Iran's work on uranium enrichment, a process that produces low enriched uranium for civilian power plants and highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons, came only after weeks of wrangling among the Security Council's five permanent members.

The fact that Russia, China, the United States, France and Britain had a difficult time hammering out a common position suggests that it may be hard for the Bush administration to win approval of U.N. sanctions if Iran ignores the council's demands. Russia and China, which have huge financial stakes in oil-rich Iran and veto power in the council, refused to accept any language in Wednesday's statement that could be interpreted as paving the way for sanctions.

The statement was adopted only after Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Washington agreed to drop a sentence restating the Security Council's authority to impose sanctions, said a senior State Department official who requested anonymity because of the issue's sensitivity.

The statement set the stage for talks that Rice is to hold in Berlin on Thursday with her British, French, German, Chinese and Russian counterparts on what steps should be taken if Iran refuses to suspend its uranium enrichment work.

Iran denies that it's seeking nuclear weapons and insists that it has the right to peaceful enrichment as a signatory of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the cornerstone of the global system designed to halt the spread of nuclear arms.

However, Tehran has admitted that it hid its program from the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency for 18 years, and Iran has repeatedly failed to explain numerous aspects of the effort. They include deals for weapons-related know-how with an international smuggling ring and information indicating Iranian military involvement in the project.

The 35-nation IAEA Board of Governors referred the matter to the Security Council in February after Iran ended a more than two-year suspension of uranium enrichment work.

In the statement, the 15-nation council said Iran should comply with the IAEA's demand for a "full and sustained" enrichment suspension and clear up all outstanding questions, saying those steps are "essential to build confidence in the exclusively peaceful purpose of its nuclear program."

"Iran is more isolated now than ever," Rice said in a statement. "The Security Council's Presidential Statement sends an unmistakable message to Iran that its efforts to conceal its nuclear program and evade its international obligations are unacceptable."

"The ball is in Iran's court," said France's U.N. envoy, Jean-Marc de la Sabliere.

U.S. and European officials stressed that they remained open to a resumption of European-led negotiations with Tehran on a settlement under which Iran would give up enrichment but could operate nuclear power plants.

U.S. officials have said that if Iran rejects the council's statement, the Bush administration will press to impose sanctions that would penalize regime members, but not ordinary Iranians.

Unlike the statement, a Security Council resolution would have the force of international law.

President Bush also has refused to exclude the possibility of military strikes on Iranian nuclear facilities. European governments oppose the use of force, as do Russia and China.

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(Warren P. Strobel of Knight Ridder Newspapers contributed to this report.)

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The U.N. statement is available at www.un.org/News/Press/docs/2006/sc8679.doc.htm

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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