Calls for diplomacy as tensions rise on Iran

UNITED NATIONS — The UN Security Council unanimously added further sanctions on Iran, March 24, for not complying with a February deadline for halting its nuclear activities. But diplomats said sanctions were not the solution and emphasized the need for stepped up diplomacy.

Meanwhile, rumors of U.S. war plans, coupled with a standoff between Iran and Britain over a group of captured British sailors and marines, have dramatically increased tensions and fears of a U.S. attack on Iran.

The U.S. military, on March 27, put on its largest display of force in the Persian Gulf in nearly four years, using 15 warships and 100 aircraft to simulate attacks near the coast of Iran. More than 10,000 U.S. personnel were involved in the “war games,” The Associated Press reported.

Iran captured 15 British troops in the Persian Gulf, March 23, saying their ship had come into Iranian waters. Britain said it had evidence the sailors were in Iraqi waters. An Iranian Foreign Ministry official declared that “violating the sovereign boundaries of other states and illegal entry” are a violation of international law. Later, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki softened Iran’s position, suggesting the British boat may have entered Iran’s waters by mistake. The Iranian Embassy in London said, “We are confident that Iranian and British governments are capable of resolving this security case through their close contacts and cooperation.”

Some suggest that the British boat may have been sent into or very close to Iranian waters as a provocation aimed at building a future excuse for war. British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that if Iran did not hand over the 15 sailors and marines — including one woman — soon enough, Britain would take “another path” than diplomacy. Iran said the case was “being examined legally,” and also announced it would release the woman sailor.

The March 24 Security Council resolution followed a December 2006 resolution demanding that Iran cease enriching uranium until a diplomatic solution on the issue is reached. The new resolution put additional sanctions on Iran. They included a ban on the sale of Iranian weapons and on any aid to Iran’s government that is not directly humanitarian or developmental. A travel ban on key officials was also imposed.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mottaki said that “even the harshest political and economic sanctions or other threats” would not stop Iran’s nuclear program, which it says it is using to create energy for civilian purposes.

Many peace advocates believe the U.S. pushed the resolution to help further its plans to attack Iran. They say the situation would be better left to the International Atomic Energy Agency, as there is no clear evidence that there is any weapons program at all in Iran.

The Security Council adopted the resolution unanimously. Even its most vocal opponents — South Africa, Indonesia and Qatar — voted in favor after the resolution was watered down, at the insistence of Russia and China, from a much harsher version put forward by the U.S.

Qatar’s representative said that Iran had a right to pursue nuclear energy, and that Qatar did not doubt that that was all Iran was doing. But, he declared, the “dead end” in negotiations between concerned countries made it necessary to “explore all possible means that pave the way to reach a peaceful solution.”

The Chinese representative said it is not possible for the nuclear issue to be solved through “sanctions and pressure” alone. Stronger diplomatic efforts outside the council are necessary, he said.

South Africa’s UN ambassador Dumisani Kumalo, who heads the Security Council this month, said that while the resolution had many shortcomings, his nation was pleased to see that it stated the need for all states to comply with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty — including, he said, the need for the five nuclear weapons states that are NPT signatories, including the U.S., to actually fulfill their obligation of disarmament.

“There is no basis in arguing that weapons of mass destruction are safe in some hands and not in others,” he said.

United for Peace and Justice urged phone calls and e-mails to members of Congress, pressing them to pass legislation barring President Bush from ordering military action against Iran without congressional approval.

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