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Iran Takes Next Step In Uranium Enrichment


From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Michele Norris.


And I'm Melissa Block.

Iran says starting tomorrow it will begin enriching uranium to a higher grade than it has in the past. In response, the U.S. and its partners say they're left with few other options and it's time to tighten the financial screws over Iran's suspected nuclear ambitions.

NPR's Michele Kelemen has the story.

MICHELE KELEMEN: Defense Secretary Robert Gates says the Obama administration reached out sincerely to Iran at great political risk. But he told reporters in Paris today that Iran has rejected these initiatives, leaving the U.S. no choice but to try to tighten sanctions.

Secretary ROBERT GATES (Defense Department): The only path that is left to us at this point, it seems to me, is that pressure track. The point of the pressure is to bring the Iranians back to the negotiating table and to resolve this issue in way that prevents Iran from having a nuclear weapon.

KELEMEN: The Obama administration has been trying to persuade the four other veto holders on the U.N. Security Council to agree to tougher sanctions. France, which chairs the Security Council this month, is clearly on board, according to Defense Minister Herve Morin, who spoke alongside Gates today.

Mr. HERVE MORIN (Defense Minister, France): (Foreign language spoken)

KELEMEN: It's obvious that nothing has worked, Morin said, adding it will be necessary now to talk about sanctions.

French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner went further, accusing Iran of trying to blackmail the international community by announcing plans to enrich uranium to a level needed to produce medical isotopes in a research reactor in Tehran. France and Russia had offered to enrich uranium for the reactor if Iran would send its stockpile abroad.

Russian officials are now sounding more open to sanctions. China is the only permanent Security Council member that's holding out. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with her Chinese counterpart last month to warn him of the consequences of a nuclear armed Iran: instability in the Persian Gulf.

Secretary HILLARY CLINTON (State Department): So the argument we and others are making to China is we understand that right now that is something that seems counterproductive to you to sanction a country from which you get so much of the natural resources your growing economy needs. But think about the longer term implications.

KELEMEN: Today, State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley acknowledged that it will take time to get sanctions through the U.N. Security Council. But he thinks China will want the international community to remain united.

Mr. P.J. CROWLEY (Spokesman, State Department): We are looking at a range of options of, you know, ways to focus on putting pressure on the Iranian government without putting pressure on the Iranian people. One of our targets would be the Revolutionary Guard Corps that is playing an increasingly large economic, as well as security role in Iran.

KELEMEN: An Iran expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Karim Sadjapour, says the Revolutionary Guard Corps is a convenient target, not only because it's involved in Iran's nuclear program, but also the regime's crackdown on protestors - a new factor in the Obama administration's calculation.

Mr. KARIM SADJADPOUR (Iran Expert, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): It's not coincidental that the adjective describing sanctions has changed from the word crippling to the word targeted. And, again, that's because increasingly, sanctions are being looked at in the context of Iran's internal political dynamics. And the Obama administration certainly doesn't want to pursue any punitive measures that could be harmful to the cause of the opposition.

KELEMEN: The sanctions that the U.N. Security Council is likely to pass, he says, will be diluted to get China on board. Sadjadpour expects tougher measures out of the U.S. and Europe after that.

Michele Kelemen, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.