UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States voiced disappointment on Thursday that Iran’s new president has not moved more swiftly to allay international concerns about the country’s atomic program, saying Tehran is undermining hopes of ending its nuclear standoff with the West.
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Thursday the foreign ministry would take over talks with world powers on Iran’s contested nuclear program, an apparent move to smooth the diplomatic process after years of control by conservative Iranian hardliners.
However, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power did not sound impressed with Rouhani’s initial steps on Iran’s nuclear program, which Western powers suspect is aimed at developing the capability to produce atomic weapons - a charge Tehran vehemently denies.
“Like others here, the United States hopes that the inauguration of President Rouhani creates an opportunity for Iran to act quickly to resolve the international community’s serious concerns about Iran’s nuclear intentions,” Power told a meeting of the 15-nation Security Council on Iran sanctions.
“Unfortunately, we have not yet seen any clear signs that Iran is committed to addressing the most pressing concerns about its nuclear program,” Power said. “To the contrary, recent developments trouble us.”
Last week, the U.N. nuclear watchdog said Iran plans to test about 1,000 advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges it has completed installing.
“Rather than take steps to meet the obligations imposed by this Security Council, Iran is installing advanced centrifuges, which may be two to three times more efficient at enriching uranium than its current centrifuges,” Power said.
Iran has been hit with four rounds of U.N. sanctions for refusing to halt its nuclear enrichment program and other sensitive activities.
During the council meeting on Iran, Australian Ambassador Gary Quinlan, president of the Security Council this month and chair of the council’s Iran sanctions committee, said he was still receiving reports of sanctions breaches by Tehran, including attempts to import prohibited items.
Power also voiced concerns about Iran’s continued work on the Arak research reactor, which could yield weapons-grade plutonium. The U.N. nuclear watchdog, however, said Iran informed it last month that the planned commissioning of the Arak reactor had been delayed from early next year.
Iran’s actions, Power said, “move us further away from a negotiated solution.” She added that if Iran cooperates, “it will find a willing partner in the United States.”
Tehran and Washington have not had formal diplomatic relations since 1980.
Although the new foreign minister of Iran, Tehran’s former U.N. ambassador Mohammad Javad Zarif, is widely seen as a moderate who may have favored a deal with the West 10 years ago, ultimate authority regarding Iran’s nuclear program remains firmly in the hands of Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The last high-level talks between Iran and six world powers - the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - were held in April and failed to break the deadlock. Western diplomats from the group said they are not optimistic but look forward to beginning negotiations with the new government.
Power said the Security Council must do more to respond to Iran’s sanctions violations, including weapons smuggling to governments and armed groups in violation of a U.N. arms embargo.
“In addition to violating sanctions, this assistance directly threatens stability in Yemen, Lebanon, Gaza, Iraq and other regions,” she said. “Needless to say, Iran’s long-standing military support to (Syrian President Bashar) al-Assad regime is, under the current circumstances, simply unconscionable.”
Power, Quinlan and other envoys expressed frustration at the council’s failure to condemn Iranian missile launches last year as sanctions violations.
Western diplomats say Russia is blocking the council from reaching a consensus needed to condemn the launches and impose sanctions against Iranian individuals and entities linked to them.
Reporting by Louis Charbonneau; editing by Christopher Wilson