U.K.'s Straw Rules Out Military Action on Iran Nuclear Plan


Sept. 2 (Bloomberg) -- U.K. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw ruled out military action to curtail Iran's nuclear program, saying ``nobody'' is talking about war.

``Nobody is proposing military action with respect to Iran,'' Straw said today after leading a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Newport, Wales. ``This issue needs to be resolved and can be resolved by diplomatic means.''

The U.S. and EU are concerned that Iran has pushed ahead with enriching uranium, a process that could lead to the production of an atomic bomb. Through the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency, the EU has offered incentives including trade ties and technology for Iran to abandon the program.

Iran has rebuffed those efforts, saying its nuclear work is aimed at generating electricity that would allow it to export more oil. Yesterday, the EU threatened to call Iran before the UN Security Council, which could issue a reprimand or impose sanctions unless progress was made on the issue.

``It's a rather delicate moment,'' Benita Ferrero-Waldner, the EU's external affairs commissioner said yesterday. ``We may have some very difficult decisions to make. Nobody wants to go to the Security Council, but it might become unavoidable if they don't cooperate. Nothing can be ruled out.''

Previous Talks
France, Germany and Britain have been attempting to defuse the dispute through diplomatic talks. The U.S., which severed relations with Iran when Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini seized power in 1979, has said it would back a UN review of the matter unless Iran resumes cooperation with the IAEA, a Vienna-based agency that assesses nuclear issues for the UN.

Some EU nations remain concerned that pushing the matter to the UN would escalate tensions, perhaps leading to war. Germany opposed the U.S. war in Iraq, and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, commenting during his campaign for elections this month, has said wouldn't back action against Iran.

``We hope the negotiations can be continued,'' said Bernard Bot, foreign minister for the Netherlands. ``A cutoff at this moment is not an option.''

Straw said EU ministers wanted to see what IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei says on the issue in a report due tomorrow before deciding on the next move. The IAEA's board of governors meets in Vienna on Sept. 19 to discuss the matter.

Electricity Need
Iran expects its electricity consumption to double to 60,000 megawatts in the next two decades and wants nuclear power to provide 7,000 megawatts of its needs. In the southern city of Bushehr, the nation paid Russia as much as $1 billion to build a reactor capable of generating about 1,000 megawatts of electricity.

Another plant in Arak, in western Iran, raised more concerns. That facility is able to produce heavy-water used to control nuclear reactors and pure enough to use in weapons projects.

The Arak plant will have made enough enriched plutonium to build a nuclear weapon by 2007, Mohammad Mohaddessin, chairman of the National Council for Resistance in Iran's foreign affairs committee, said in Paris on March 31. Mohaddessin belongs to an exiled resistance group.

By the end of this year, the Arak facility will be able to produce 16 tons of heavy water with 99.8 percent density, Mohaddessin said. The plant is currently able to make eight tons of heavy water with a 15 percent density, which isn't enough to produce weapons-grade fuel, he said.

The Bushehr plant won the all-clear from the UN nuclear watchdog on April 22. The International Atomic Energy Authority then said Iran is ``aggressively enforcing'' quality control over the reactor in Bushehr and the installation meets international safety standards.

The IAEA said it is working with Russia and the Islamic republic to ensure safety of the construction. Atomstroyexport, overseen by Russia's atomic energy ministry, is supplying technology and personnel to build the Bushehr plant.

Russia took over the Bushehr contract after Ukraine pulled out of an agreement to supply turbines for the plant in 1998 because of pressure from the U.S. and Israel.