BRASILIA (Reuters) - Secretary of State Hillary Clinton failed to win Brazil’s support on Wednesday for more sanctions against Iran and said Tehran would not talk seriously about its nuclear program until the United Nations took new action.
Even before he met with Clinton, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said: “It is not wise to push Iran into a corner. It is wise to establish negotiations.”
Clinton’s visit to Brasilia came as U.S. diplomats seek to persuade key U.N. Security Council members that the time had come for action on Iran, which has defied U.N. demands it stop enriching uranium.
“I think it’s only after we pass sanctions in the Security Council that Iran will negotiate in good faith,” Clinton said.
“That is my belief, that is our administration’s belief: that once the international community speaks in unison around a resolution then the Iranians will come and begin to negotiate.”
Clinton said the United States believed sanctions were “the best way to avoid conflict and arms races that could disrupt stability and the peace and the oil markets of the world.”
While most attention is focused on Russia and China, which hold veto power over any U.N. resolution, the United States had hoped to win over key nonpermanent Security Council members such as Brazil and Turkey to present a united front on the Iran nuclear standoff.
Lula, who has upset Washington by pursuing close ties with Tehran, has repeatedly voiced caution over the drive by the United States, Britain, France and Germany for new sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program, which they fear is a cover for making atomic weapons.
Tehran has denied the accusation, and says its program is purely for peaceful purposes.
Diplomats in New York told Reuters this week the Western powers had prepared a revised draft proposal for a fourth round of sanctions against Iran for defying U.N. demands that it stop enriching uranium.
They said it was circulated by the United States to Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China. They added the Western powers hoped to hold a conference call soon among the six, possibly this week, to gauge Russia’s and China’s views.
If the Western powers win the support of Russia and China, negotiations on the first new U.N. sanctions resolution in two years could begin immediately. Russia’s initial reaction to the U.S. proposal has been negative, diplomats said, while China continues to leave U.S. and European officials guessing.
Brazilian Foreign Minister Celso Amorim said Brazil felt there was room for two or three months’ more negotiation with Iran.
“We still have some possibility of coming to an agreement ... but that may require a lot of flexibility on both sides,” Amorim said at a news conference with Clinton in Brasilia.
“We will not simply bow down to the evolving consensus if we do not agree.”
Clinton, who is on a tour of Latin America, expressed disappointment with Brazil’s position and said talks had proved fruitless with Iran.
“The door is open for negotiation, we never slammed it shut, but we don’t see anybody even in the far-off distance walking toward it,” Clinton said.
She urged countries to be cautious about Iran’s assurances that it had only peaceful intentions.
“We have seen an Iran that runs to Brazil, an Iran that runs to Turkey and an Iran that runs to China, telling people different things to different people to avoid international sanctions,” she said.
A senior U.S. official, speaking to reporters on Clinton’s plane, said the Brazilians told Clinton their position was not “etched in stone” and said the two countries would keep talking.
The official said that if Lula’s planned May visit to Tehran occurs after a Security Council sanctions vote, it could “take on a different cast” — suggesting Lula could act as an intermediary to urge Iran back to talks.
Lula told reporters that Brazil would “not support any move by Iran to go beyond the peaceful use of nuclear energy.”
He added he planned to have a “frank discussion” on the subject with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad when he visited Tehran.
The United States and European Union on Wednesday kept up the hot rhetoric, accusing Iran of breaking nuclear transparency rules by escalating uranium enrichment without U.N. surveillance and saying its “provocative” behavior invited tougher sanctions.
They spoke at a tense meeting in Vienna of governors of the International Atomic Energy Agency. A diplomat inside the closed-door meeting said China’s ambassador reiterated that Beijing still believed the time was not right for sanctions against its major trade partner, further complicating the Western-led push for quick moves to sanctions.
Also on Wednesday, Admiral Mike Mullen, the top U.S. military officer, said there were “extraordinary and increasing concerns” about Iran’s nuclear ambitions in the Middle East but suggested any military action was “not the preferred path at this point.”
“We’re working hard to make it a very, very stringent set of sanctions,” said Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“It’s very narrow space between Iran getting a nuclear weapon and someone who might strike Iran, and both of those outcomes I think generate an enormous amount of instability in a part of the world that’s already pretty unstable,” he said.
Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau at United Nations and Phil Stewart and Adam Entous in Washington; Writing by Andrew Quinn; Editing by Anthony Boadle and Peter Cooney