Iran makes little headway in diplomatic offensive

VIENNA (AP) — Iran's push to avoid new U.N. sanctions appeared to make little headway Sunday with Austria, with the Security Council member saying the onus was on Tehran to defuse international concerns about its nuclear agenda if it wanted to avoid fresh penalties.

Austria and other non-permanent members of the 15-nation U.N. Security Council are the targets of a diplomatic offensive by Tehran designed to stave off a U.S-supported push for a fourth set of Security Council sanctions for its nuclear defiance. The Vienna visit of Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki followed a trip by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to Uganda, another non-permanent member.

In Kampala on Saturday, Ahmadinejad blasted the U.S. and Britain, which also supports sanctions, saying that while Washington and London "say they are concerned about the building of a nuclear bomb (by Iran) ... they are lying," and describing the Western push for new sanctions as illegal.

Mottaki, speaking to reporters in Vienna alongside Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger, sounded the same theme, saying "the talk of sanctions is unjust," and insisting his country had broken no international laws.

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni had been noncommittal, telling reporters his country would decide on its position after consulting other African nations.

Spindelegger was blunter, saying only cooperation by Iran could derail the push for sanctions.

"We want a clear change of course by Iran," he said. "We want guarantees that Iran's nuclear program is meant exclusively for peaceful purposes. It is up to Iran to restore international trust."

"The clock is ticking," he said. "Time is running out for Iran — I made it clear to my opposite number that the direction toward sanctions is to be stopped only if Tehran gives a clear signal for cooperation."

Austria, he said was ready "to work constructively on an Iran resolution" along with other Security Council members supporting such a move.

Austria is an EU member and Spindelegger's comments appeared to mirror the European stance. The EU backs new sanctions if Iran continues to flout Security Council resolutions demanding it curb nuclear programs that could be used to make a bomb.

Spindelegger said he had consulted with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton by telephone before the talks with his Iranian counterpart and had brought some issues to the table on the basis of that conversation.

Mottaki, for his part, dismissed the demand that Tehran needed to compromise.

"It is time for the other side to take their steps to have our trust and build confidence for the Iranian side," he said.

Mottaki also met International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano for talks that IAEA spokeswoman Gill Tudor described as conducted "in a businesslike atmosphere." That term usually means no progress on outstanding issues.

Before his trip, Mottaki said Iran wants to talk with all council members except the U.S. about a moribund nuclear fuel swap deal that foundered after Tehran refused to accept all of its terms, adding to Security Council sentiment for new sanctions.

Iranian delegations, he said, will be pushing for agreement on the proposal in visits to veto-wielding permanent council members China and Russia and the 10 non-permanent members.

Russia has recently expressed a readiness to support "smart" sanctions that do not target the Iranian people. China also appears willing but is insisting on further watering down present drafts submitted by the West.

Only permanent council members could veto proposed sanctions, but strong opposition by non-permanent members could strengthen Iran's case.

Brazil and Turkey, also serving two-year terms on the Security Council, already have indicated a reluctance to support new sanctions, and Brazil's President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is due in Tehran on May 15.

Mottaki's next stop was Bosnia, another non-permanent Security Council member.

Iran began enriching uranium to near 20 percent two months ago and says it will be turned into fuel rods for a research reactor that manufactures medical isotopes for cancer patients. It says it was forced to take this step because the big powers refused to meet it half way on the plan, which would have supplied the rods from abroad.

Any success in enriching up to that level brings Iran closer to quickly being able to make weapons grade uranium that serves as the core of nuclear warheads.

Iran last year rejected a U.N.-backed plan that offered nuclear fuel rods in exchange for most of Iran's stock of lower-level enriched uranium.

Beyond meeting Iran's needs, the U.S. and its allies saw the proposal as delaying Iran's ability to make a nuclear weapon by stripping it of much of the enriched uranium it would need for such a project. Tehran denies seeking such arms, insisting it is enriching only for an envisaged network of power-generating nuclear reactors.

The main stumbling block has been Tehran's refusal to ship the bulk of its low-enriched uranium abroad — a condition insisted upon by the West as key to slowing Iran's accumulation of enriched uranium and thereby any bomb-making capacities.