Published February 06, 2006
WASHINGTON – Iran's foreign ministry made an about face on Sunday, announcing that the Islamic regime in Tehran will resume talks with Russia on Moscow's proposal to enrich Iran's uranium for civilian energy use.
Iran is also leaving the door open to negotiations with different countries. "The Security Council is not the end of the world," a foreign ministry spokesman said.
Those remarks follow Iran's defiant announcement on Saturday that it will cease all voluntary cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nation's nuclear watchdog, after the IAEA voted earlier in the day to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council for its refusal to suspend its nuclear technology program and open the country's nuclear facilities to inspection.
Tehran is trying to pursue nuclear energy in a peaceful way and will never surrender to international pressure, the government also announced. Iran repeatedly has stressed it will continue to honor its commitments under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
In its referral, the IAEA said that if Iran wants to avoid reprisal, it must suspend all enrichment and reprocessing activity, cooperate fully with the agency, and return to negotiations with the EU-3 of Great Britain, France, and Germany.
After the vote, President Bush said the IAEA's referral is not the end of diplomacy, but a clear message that the international community will prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
"The path chosen by Iran's new leaders — threats, concealment, and breaking international agreements and IAEA seals — will not succeed and will not be tolerated by the international community. The regime's continued defiance only further isolates Iran from the rest of the world and undermines the Iranian people's aspirations for a better life," the president said in a statement.
As he did in his State of the Union speech, Bush also addressed the Iranian people directly, saying that the international community is not trying to deny Iran its right to a civil nuclear energy program, but that Iran's best interest lies in not trying to pursue nuclear weapons.
On Sunday, the principal deputy director for national intelligence said the United States is "watching very carefully and preparing estimates" on Iran's next actions.
"There may be the potential there to dissuade them, but right now they appear to be very, very determined," said Lt. Gen. Michael Hayden. He added that the United States is leaving its options open in how to respond to Iran.
"I'd be reluctant to make a prediction, although I do think it's fairly well known that our overall intelligence community estimate is that Iran is determined to acquire nuclear weapons. And working from that fact, I think that fact shapes our policy and it appears to be shaping the policy of other nations as well," Hayden said.
When asked why he was confident in estimates of Iran's nuclear program in the wake of erroneous intelligence on Iraqi weapons, Hayden said officials are "being very, very clear now in our estimates — where we have higher and lower confidence, where these are based on estimates, and where they're more based on hard, concrete evidence."
Hayden said the administration wants to go as far as possible with diplomacy, but agrees that a
nuclear-armed Iran is "absolutely unacceptable."
At a security conference meeting in Munich, Germany on Saturday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld called Iran the "world's leading state sponsor of terrorism," and said the world stands "with the Iranian people who want a peaceful democratic future. They have no desire to see the country they love isolated from the rest of the civilized world."
Rumsfeld also was quoted in a German newspaper saying that the military option is still on the table, and that any country that says Israel has no right to exist is "making a statement" about possible future behavior.
But Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., said the United States doesn't have the right to decide which countries should have a nuclear weapon and which shouldn't. He also charged that the U.S. military doesn't have the capacity to back up another threat.
"The whole idea that the United States is the world's policeman and can invade any country and put our young people in harm's way, not the kids of the affluent, but kids from rural areas and in the cities, is just wrong," Rangel said. "This is the time for us to try to regain our friends to work with Russia, to work with China and to make certain that we contain the terrorists in Iran without exposing our kids to death and being wounded."
Former Democratic presidential candidate Gen. Wesley Clark said that the United States military has the ability to take on Iran, either through stealth bombers, earth-penetrating munitions, Tomahawk land attack missiles or Special Forces. Clark said the United States could probably set back the Iranian nuclear program by a dozen years through the military option, but the problem with doing so is it will only excite the Iranians to regroup more quickly and come back stronger, possibly with the help of other nations.
"There's no assurance that you can get regime change and the historical record of countries that have been bombed suggests that when you bomb a country normally people rally around the leader. In this case, that would be most unfortunate," Clark said. "That's the risk of the military option, leaving an embittered, angered Iran which is determined to seek revenge and get it."
Regardless of the approach, many officials in the United States agree that leaving Iran untended would be a big mistake.
"Nobody wants to get in there and start bombing Iran if we can possibly help it," said Rep. Clay Shaw, R-Fla. "But the rest of the world, the free world cannot put up with an Iran with a nuclear weapon. I mean, these people have made so many threats against Israel and some of their neighbors that we just cannot allow that to happen, so you can't just wait around and wait till they have a ... bomb and then decide you're going to do something about it."
FOX News' Kelly Wright and Sharon Kehnemui Liss contributed to this report.