updated 9/28/2007 3:29:51 PM ET 2007-09-28T19:29:51

Six key nations and the European Union agreed Friday to delay until November a new U.N. resolution that would toughen sanctions against Iran, waiting to see if Tehran answers questions about its disputed nuclear program.

A joint statement from the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany with EU support said they would finalize the new resolution and bring it to a vote unless reports in November from the chief U.N. nuclear official and the European Union’s foreign policy chief “show a positive outcome of their efforts.”

The United States, Britain and France had been pushing for new sanctions now to pressure Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, but Russia and China wanted to give Tehran more time to comply with U.N. inspectors.

Asked if the agreement was tantamount to a cave-in by the United States, which has been pushing for a new resolution for months, Nicholas Burns, the State Department’s No. 3 diplomat, said “the alchemy of this group is such that anything is going to be a compromise.”

He told reporters the statement sent “a very tough and strict message to Iran.”

Burns said the U.S. regards the agreement as a commitment by all six countries to support a third sanctions resolution if the reports do not confirm a positive Iranian response. But U.N. diplomats cautioned that definitions of what constitutes a positive response may differ, especially between the United States and Russia.

France official: Meeting 'a success'
French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who has warned that Iran must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons, called Friday’s ministerial meeting “a success.”

U.N. nuclear chief Mohamed ElBaradei and Iranian officials agreed in July that Tehran would answer questions from agency experts by December on more than two decades of nuclear activity — most of it secret until revealed more than four years ago. Technical officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency returned to Tehran this week to start probing outstanding questions, some with possible weapons applications.

In the statement, foreign ministers of the six countries, with the backing of EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, welcomed the IAEA agreement with Iran.

“We call upon Iran, however, to produce tangible results rapidly and effectively by clarifying all outstanding issues and concerns on Iran’s nuclear program including topics which could have the military nuclear dimension,” the statement said.

“Full transparency and cooperation by Iran with the IAEA is essential in order to address outstanding concerns,” it said.

Two U.N. resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran have failed to persuade it to suspend uranium enrichment. Tehran insists its program is aimed at producing energy for civilian use but the U.S., its European allies and many others fear the program’s real goal is nuclear weapons.

Ahmadinejad: Nuke issue 'closed'
In a Tuesday address at the U.N. General Assembly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the nuclear issue is “closed” and vowed to defy any U.N. Security Council move for more sanctions.

The six nations reiterated their June 2006 offer of a package of economic and political rewards to Iran and a suspension of the implementation of sanctions, but only if Tehran suspends enrichment before the start of such negotiations — meant to achieve a long-term moratorium on enrichment.

In the joint statement, the six urged Iran “to engage in a dialogue to create the conditions for negotiations.”

They asked Solana, who attended Friday’s meeting, to meet with Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, “to lay the foundation for future negotiations.”

“The proliferation risks of the Iranian nuclear program remain a source of serious concern to the international community,” the statement said. “We seek a negotiated solution that would address the international community’s concerns over Iran’s nuclear program. We reiterate our commitment to see the proliferation implication of Iran’s nuclear program resolved...”

No specific date for vote
Since Iran has not suspended its enrichment and reprocessing activities as required under the two previous Security Council resolutions, the six nations said “we agree to finalize a text for a third U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution ... with the intention of bringing it to a vote in the U.N. Security Council unless the November reports of Dr. Solana and Dr. ElBaradei show a positive outcome of their efforts.”

Burns said political directors from the six countries will meet once or twice in October to finish drafting the new resolution.

He said there were detailed discussions Friday on what should be in it, but not every point was agreed.

No specific date was set for submitting the new sanctions resolution to a vote in the Security Council because the six nations want to give Solana and ElBaradei some flexibility in producing their reports, Burns said.

The ministers wanted to “threaten to vote the resolution, but not foreclose the diplomatic opportunity that may be ahead,” he said.

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