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US probably can stop Iran without force - senators

Written by: Staff

WASHINGTON, Mar 13 (Reuters) The United States probably can stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons without military action, but use of force, subject to congressional approval, is still an option, US lawmakers said.

''I think we can stop them from having a nuclear weapon short of war,'' Sen Joseph Biden, a Delaware Democrat, said on NBC's ''Meet The Press'' television program.

Republican Sen George Allen of Virginia said on the same show: ''Ultimately, you never want to take military action off the table. But you never want it to get that far. But if necessary, it is an option. But it is not one that is desirable.'' Biden and Allen, both potential US presidential candidates in 2008, agreed that Washington must work with other countries to deal with Iran, and that Bush would need congressional approval before the United States participates in military action to curb Iran's nuclear weapons program.

''He has to do that,'' Biden said yesterday.

''I believe he should, and I believe he would if necessary,'' said Allen.

RUSSIAN DEAL APPEARS DEAD The UN Security Council was due to take up Iran's case this week after the International Atomic Energy Agency sent the council a report saying it could not verify that Iran's nuclear plans were purely peaceful.

Iran on Sunday said it was no longer considering a Russian compromise deal intended to overcome the international dispute over whether Tehran is seeking to build an atomic bomb.

Russia had proposed making nuclear fuel for Iran to ensure uranium was enriched only to the low level needed for power stations. But Iran was unwilling to surrender its right to enrich uranium on its own soil.

While en route to Indonesia from Chile, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Iran's announcement was not a surprise.

''They were interested, but they have never really demonstrated that they were interested in the Russian proposal as the Russians had actually put it forward,'' Rice said.

President George W Bush said on Friday that Iran is a ''grave national security concern,'' but said it was important to use diplomatic means to deal with Iran's uranium enrichment-related activities.

Iran, which has fought to avoid being taken to the UN Security Council, suspects Bush is using the nuclear issue as a pretext for promoting a change in the Islamic republic's government.

The possibility of sanctions against Iran was mentioned late last week by Javier Solana, the foreign policy chief at the European Union, which an Iranian senior cleric denounced as a ''puppet of U.S. policies.'' Ambassadors from the Security Council's five permanent members -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- met on Friday on drafting a statement. The British and French ambassadors both said the consultation would continue -- an indication the five had not agreed on a text.

The Western powers would like the statement to call on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment-related activities and to seek a report, perhaps in two weeks or a month, on whether Tehran has done so.

Divisions are expected to emerge after the statement, with Russia and China strongly opposing any escalation of measures, including sanctions, against Iran.

Reuters AD VP0415

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