Bush, Merkel united on Iran's nuclear threat
Iran threatens to block inspections
(CNN) -- President Bush, in a joint appearance with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the White House on Friday, said that Iran, "armed with a nuclear weapon, poses a grave threat to the security of the world."
Merkel said it was essential that as many nations as possible take a common position against Iran's nuclear activities. "We certainly will not be intimidated by a country such as Iran," she said.
Bush said their meeting was part of a "proactive" diplomatic effort to determine how best to confront Iran over its fledgling nuclear program. The two leaders closing ranks comes amid growing international efforts to persuade Iran to halt its nuclear program.
Sidestepping a question about whether he favored sanctions, Bush said, "I'm not going to prejudge what the United Nations Security Council should do. But I recognize that it's logical that a country which has rejected diplomatic entreaties be sent to the United Nations Security Council."
"The president of Iran said that the destruction of Israel is an important part of their agenda, and that's unacceptable," Bush said. "And the development of a nuclear weapon, it seems to me, would bring them closer to that objective."
Iran broke U.N. seals on its nuclear enrichment facility this week. It has long insisted its nuclear programs have peaceful aims, and it has the right to restart its facilities in accordance with international law.
On Friday, Tehran threatened to block inspections of its nuclear sites if a dispute over its atomic activity is sent to be considered by the U.N. Security Council.
Iran would stop working with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, if the nation was referred to the Council, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Friday.
The move reflects a law passed by Iran last year requiring the government to stop cooperation if Iran's nuclear program was referred to the Council.
This would mean, among other things, the end of random inspections.
On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice backed Germany, France, and Britain in saying Iran should be sent to the council over its refusal to halt its nuclear activity.
Rice called on the United Nations to confront Iran over what she called its defiance over its nuclear program and slammed the nation for its "deliberate escalation of this issue."
'A dead end'
Foreign ministers from the European Union's three biggest nations -- the so-called EU3 -- met Thursday following Iran's moves to restart its nuclear program.
"Our talks with Iran have reached a dead end," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after meeting with British and French counterparts, Jack Straw and Philippe Douste-Blazy, and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana. (Watch what option remains after diplomacy and force -- 2:56)
Straw said the group decided to call for an emergency session with the board of the IAEA to vote on referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council.
The European ministers did not say exactly what action should be taken by the Security Council, which could impose sanctions, but officials in London and Moscow said envoys from the EU3 would meet counterparts from China, Russia and the U.S. next week to discuss the issue further.
As well as possible economic sanctions, there have been calls for cultural and sports boycotts, including the banning of Iran from soccer's 2006 World Cup in Germany.
The calls resurfaced Friday as Bayern Munich played a match in Iran against Persepolis Tehran, to criticism in Germany. (Full story)
France said Friday that it favored a step-by-step approach over Iran's contested nuclear program and that any sanctions request at this stage would be premature.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said France's priority for now is convening a special session of the International Atomic Energy Agency to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council.
The U.N. Security Council could decide to sanction Iran. But Mattei did not prejudge what action the council might take.
He said France, Britain and Germany regard any sanctions request as being "premature for the moment."
"We'll see what happens at the Security Council," he said in a telephone interview with Ths Associated Press. "One step at a time."
However, in an interview with BBC radio Friday, Britain's Straw said sanctions were possible. "Obviously, if Iran failed to comply, the Security Council would then consider sanctions," he said.
Russia meanwhile renewed its call for Iran to resume its moratorium on nuclear activities and cooperation with the IAEA. (Full story)
Speaking to reporters in Washington, Rice said Iran's action "demonstrates that it has chosen confrontation with the international community over cooperation and negotiation."
A statement outlining a phone call between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Rice said both sides shared "a deep disappointment over Tehran's decision."
The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal reported that during the call, Lavrov told Rice that Russia would abstain, rather than vote against, efforts to move the issue from the IAEA to the Security Council.
China, which imports significant amounts of Iranian oil, said it hoped Tehran would return to talks on the dispute and urged all parties to exercise restraint.
"We hope Iran can do more to promote mutual confidence between itself and the EU3, and return to negotiations," Reuters quoted a spokesman for China's foreign ministry, Kong Quan, as saying.
Tehran's move was announced Tuesday by Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, who said: "Nuclear research officially resumed at sites agreed upon with (U.N.) inspectors."
He said Iran was not resuming the production of nuclear fuel, a process that would involve uranium enrichment.
Iran's representative on the nuclear issue, Ali Larijani, told CNN that while negotiations can continue, "the question of our research is non-negotiable.".
Annan called Larijani on Thursday to tell him to "avoid escalation, to exercise restraint," to which he responded they "are interested in serious and constructive negotiations, but within a timeframe."
This is the second time IAEA seals have been removed in Iran. In August, researchers unsealed equipment at its Isfahan plant and resumed uranium conversion activities.
Uranium conversion is a first step towards uranium enrichment, which could lead to the manufacture of nuclear weapons.
Despite the threat of U.N. referral, Iran has vowed to press ahead.
"Unfortunately, a group of bullies allows itself to deprive nations of their legal and natural rights," AP quoted President Ahmadinejad as saying.
"I tell those superpowers that, with strength and prudence, Iran will pave the way to achieving peaceful nuclear energy," he said. "The Iranian nation is not frightened by the powers and their noise."
CNN Chief International Correspondent Christiane Amanpour and Berlin Bureau Chief Chris Burns contributed to this report.
Copyright 2006 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.
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