U.S. loses leverage on Iran; Russia, Pakistan and N. Korea angry

NEW YORK — Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made the best today of U.S. failure to win new U.N. punishments against Iran, a disappointment to the Bush administration that marked the nadir of a grueling week at the United Nations, where U.S. prestige and influence took a beating at the hands of Russia, Iran and North Korea.

"I think it is a very positive step, the resolution on Iran," Rice said before a meeting with Kazakhstan's foreign minister. "We had only sought a resolution that would affirm the unity," of the nations that have offered Iran potential trade, economic and other perks in exchange for rolling back its disputed nuclear program, Rice said.

That way, Rice said, "The Iranians know that this unity is very strong and that we will be moving forward."

Unity among the six nations extended only to a restatement of past agreements, however. Even that modest outcome from last week had been in doubt as, in the midst of a global financial crisis blamed by some on the United States and problems with key anti-terror ally Pakistan, Rice spent eight days here trying to resurrect many of the waning Bush administration's most important foreign policy goals.

Russia, irate at criticism for its war with Georgia, stymied U.S. hopes to have the U.N. Security Council begin drafting new Iran sanctions.

On the positive side, Rice's intense long-distance lobbying of lawmakers in Washington achieved a major breakthrough in Congress on the administration's civilian nuclear deal with India.

At the same time, however:

North Korea expelled U.N. atomic inspectors and said it would shortly restart a nuclear reactor it had disabled under faltering international talks to get it to give up the bomb. The chief U.S. negotiator is to visit Pyongyang this week in a bid to salvage the process. Pakistan insisted on respect for its sovereignty at the U.N. as its military launched warning shots or flares at two American choppers near the Afghan-Pakistan border, prompting an exchange of fire between a joint U.S.-Afghan patrol and Pakistani troops on the ground below.

Attending her final U.N. General Assembly session as America's top diplomat, Rice held more than 80 meetings with world leaders and senior officials but perhaps none was more closely watched than her encounter on Wednesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

In their first face-to-face discussion since Russia invaded pro-Western Georgia last month, Rice and Lavrov appeared to agree on little. One U.S. official who sat in, Daniel Fried, described it as "a polite, thorough exchange of views where the disagreements were quite clear."

And those disagreements extended beyond Georgia.

Russia, a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council, announced even before the Rice-Lavrov session that it would not attend a planned ministerial-level meeting with the other four permanent council members on Iran, forcing its cancellation.

The United States and Europe had sought the meeting to show unity in their desire to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons and start drafting new sanctions. Russia then cemented its diplomatic victory by agreeing to a new U.N. resolution that maintains only the status quo.

The same day the watered-down resolution passed, Lavrov took to the floor of the General Assembly to denounce the domination of world affairs after the promise of global post-9/11 unity by a single power — a veiled reference to the United States.

"The solidarity of the international community fostered on the wave of struggle against terrorism turned out to be somehow 'privatized,'" Lavrov said.

He cited the U.S. invasion of Iraq "under the false pretext of fight on terror and nuclear arms proliferation" and questions of excessive use of force against civilians in counterterrorism operations in Afghanistan.