UNITED NATIONS — The United States, Britain, and France expressed growing concern Wednesday that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapons program and developing ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons.
The three Western powers were joined by Russia and China, which have close ties to Iran, in calling on the government in Tehran to return to negotiations on its nuclear program. Deputy Chinese U.N. ambassador Wang Ming said, without elaborating, that, "at present, new opportunities have emerged for restarting dialogue."
The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council spoke after a briefing by the head of the committee monitoring sanctions against Iran. The council imposed a fourth round of sanctions against Iran in June for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment and start negotiations with the five permanent members and Germany.
The council briefing took place ahead of a meeting next week of foreign ministers from the six countries on the sidelines of the annual ministerial session of the General Assembly. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is among about 140 world leaders scheduled to attend the annual meeting and a summit to promote the achievement of U.N. anti-poverty goals that precedes it.
Ambassadors from the three Western countries highlighted a recent International Atomic Energy Agency report and comments Monday by its chief, Yukiya Amano, who said he cannot confirm that all of Iran's nuclear activities are peaceful, as Tehran claims, because the country has offered only selective cooperation to the U.N. nuclear watchdog and has rejected several inspectors.
In Tehran, Ahmadinejad on Wednesday criticized the threat of new sanctions, saying Iran can survive without the United States and its allies. He told NBC News in an interview that Iran was justified in barring further visits by inspectors.
"We in Iran are in a position to meet our own requirements," he said.
U.S. Ambassador Susan Rice pointed to "clear evidence that Iran is refusing to take any step to begin resolving concerns that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons — and continues actions that in fact deepen these concerns."
"The IAEA's report is the clearest evidence yet that Iran is refusing to address our proliferation concerns and appears determined to acquire a nuclear weapons capability," she said.
Rice also expressed concern that Iran is pursuing ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons in violation of U.N. sanctions — a concern echoed by British U.N. Ambassador Mark Lyall Grant and French U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud.
Tehran says its nuclear program is peaceful and aimed solely at producing nuclear energy, but Araud said "Iran's nuclear program has no credible civilian application."
The Western envoys said despite deep concerns about Iran's nuclear intentions, the offer of negotiations remains on the table.
But Lyall Grant also warned that they remain "determined to continue to respond robustly to Iran's refusal to comply with its international obligations."
The Western ambassadors urged the sanctions committee to quickly appoint a panel of experts to help monitor what countries are doing to implement the measures. The committee called on all countries to submit reports on actions they have taken, noting that only 36 countries did so within the 60-day requirement.
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