UNITED NATIONS — As America's ambassador to the United Nations, Zalmay Khalilzad, said "additional pressure" should be exerted on Iran during a session in New York yesterday, nine American ships were entering the Persian Gulf.
Mr. Khalilzad's statements came in reaction to an International Atomic Energy Agency report yesterday that declared Iran was not in compliance with U.N. Security Council demands to end aspects of its nuclear program and that the agency's knowledge about aspects of Iran's nuclear activities has "deteriorated."
But even as the agency reported that Iran was refusing to cooperate with IAEA inspectors and had defied Security Council resolutions, powerful council members advocated removing punitive measures in favor of more diplomatic negotiations.
The IAEA director, Mohamed ElBaradei, had already raised the ire of American officials, telling the Spanish newspaper ABC last week that the attempt to end Iran's enrichment program had been "overtaken by events." Rather than meting out further punishment, he said the council should concentrate on ensuring that Iran's enrichment does not reach the "industrial scale" required for weapons manufacturing.
"I was frankly a little surprised that the director would say that, and in effect try to get involved in the diplomacy here," Secretary of State Rice told Fox News.
"The Security Council has required that Iran suspend its enrichment program as well as its heavy water program," Mr. Khalilzad told The New York Sun yesterday at a press briefing. "Mr. ElBaradei himself has reported that they are not in compliance with that requirement. Now it's up to the Security Council to deliberate what to do."
Mr. Khalilzad added that it was "clear that what we have done so far has not been enough" to get Iran to comply. "The time has come to take a look at additional pressure, to ratchet up the pressure to bring about a change in the Iranian calculation."
A Western diplomat who spoke on condition of anonymity said America's pressure might include additional council-mandated sanctions, but also heavier economic pressure undertaken with European allies and Japan outside the U.N. purview. The military option, he added, has never been ruled out, either.
Meanwhile, Rear Admiral Kevin Quinn told reporters on board the USS John C. Stennis, "There's always the threat of any state or nonstate actor that might decide to close one of the international straits, and the biggest one is the Straits of Hormuz," according to Reuters. Admiral Quinn spoke from the flagship of the nine U.S. Navy warships now engaged in "training" in the Gulf, according to a Navy press office. But even as he spoke of preventive measures, oil prices climbed to nearly $70 a barrel on concerns about interference in oil supply if America decides to act militarily.
At the United Nations, several council members said the policy of an incremental increase in sanctions has failed to produce results. But instead of additional measures, as Mr. Khalilzad suggested, they advocated open-ended negotiations, such as those between the national security adviser of Iran, Ali Larijani, and a European foreign policy official, Javier Solana.
"We are supporting — advocating — negotiations," the deputy Chinese ambassador to the United Nations, Liu Zhenmin, said. "Efforts are made to encourage the talks" between Messrs. Solana and Larijani, he added. But China, which maintains extensive commercial relations with Iran, does not currently plan to launch its own diplomatic effort to convince Tehran to comply with council resolutions, he said.
The U.N. ambassador from South Africa, Dumisani Kumalo, called for a "cooling off period" during which all punitive action against Iran would be suspended for 90 days while Iran would suspend enrichment. When his country suggested that course last March, Mr. Kumalo told reporters: "We were said to be sort of almost crazy. But I think now people should rethink that."
America was "not interested then. We are not interested now," a State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said of Mr. Kumalo's suggestion yesterday. Another American official also dismissed the Larijani-Solana talks as nonproductive.
Since last December, when sanctions were first imposed on Iran, the IAEA has been required to report to the council on Iran's compliance every 60 days. New sanctions have been added each time Iran was found to be in noncompliance.
"Iran has not suspended its enrichment-related activities," yesterday's IAEA report said. Iran also refused to allow the agency access, and therefore, the "level of knowledge of certain aspects of Iran's nuclear related activities has deteriorated," the report said.
The report detailed new developments that indicated a faster stride toward enrichment levels required for manufacturing weapons than previously had been thought. "On 13 May 2007, eight 164-machine cascades were operating simultaneously and were being fed with UF6," a form of uranium used for enrichment, according to the report. Iran has already "reached enrichment levels up to 4.8% U-235," or fissile uranium, the report said.