The five veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council are deadlocked over the best way to pressure Iran into clearing up questions about its nuclear program, U.N. diplomats said Monday.
The divide between Russia and China on one side and Britain, France and the United States on the other makes it less likely the council will take a tough stance against Iran when it convenes later this week to discuss the issue for the first time, the diplomats said.
Ambassadors from the five veto-wielding council members met early Monday for the third time to debate language for a council statement on the issue.
Britain and France, backed by the United States, have proposed that the council demand Iran abandon uranium enrichment — a process that can produce fuel for a nuclear reactor or fissile material for an atomic bomb — and adhere to its obligations under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Russia and China fear that going that far in a statement — which Iran is not legally bound to obey — would make negotiations more difficult.
China: 'They want to be too tough'
“I think that we want a constructive statement,” China’s Ambassador Wang Guangya told The Associated Press as he left the meeting. “I think they want to be too tough.”
Another round of talks between Iran and Russia could be held even while the U.N. Security Council considers how to constrain the Iranian program, a U.S. State Department spokesman said.
“Iran knows what it needs to do. What we’re waiting to see is whether the Iranians will finally make the decision that has been asked of them and been required of them by the international community for some time,” spokesman Tom Casey said.
He said he did not know when a draft of a statement would be submitted or by which country. “I can’t tell you whether that is going to be in the next two days, next four days, next six days,” Casey said. “I don’t want to pin it down on specific timing.”
While action in the Security Council is where the Bush administration places its focus, further talks between Russia and Iran are not inconsistent with U.S. efforts at the United Nations, he said.
China, Russia fears Iran backlash
The United States believes Iran is trying to develop a nuclear weapon and says a strong Security Council statement will put new pressure on Tehran to abide by its obligations under the nonproliferation treaty. Russia and China, allies of Iran, say that council involvement will lead Iran to expel nuclear inspectors and leave the treaty entirely.
The council has the power to impose economic and political sanctions on Iran.
A U.N. diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Russians and Chinese showed little indication they would change their position or accept the proposals for wording a statement from the British, French and Americans.
The diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the secrecy of the discussions, said Russia and China want the council only to underscore the primary role of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, in handling the Iran issue.
Bypassing Security Council
The disagreement means the United States and its allies could elect to bypass the Security Council entirely in confronting Iran. Last week, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said a coalition might consider targeted sanctions if council action was not firm enough.
Despite the deadlock, Britain and France plan to circulate a draft text to the entire council Tuesday, the diplomat said. That is partly because other nations on the 15-member council have become increasingly angry about being excluded from the negotiations between the five veto-wielding members, the U.N. diplomat said.
Russia will hold another round of nuclear consultations shortly with Iran, which has rejected Moscow’s demand to suspend its uranium enrichment activities, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Monday.
The Interfax news agency, citing an official in Russia’s embassy in Tehran it did not identify, said the talks could take place in Moscow on Tuesday and Wednesday, and would be at the level of the deputy head of Iran’s powerful National Security Council.
Cautious to make any decision
Underscoring just how cautiously Russia and China want to proceed, diplomats said there was even disagreement about how the council ought to ask the IAEA to report on Iran’s compliance with its nuclear obligations.
Britain, France and the United States want the council to ask IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei to report back to it in a short timeframe — possibly as little as two weeks — on whether Iran has taken steps to answer questions about its nuclear intentions.
Russia and China believe Elbaradei should not deliver that report to the council but to the IAEA’s 35-nation Board of Governors, which could then inform the council of its findings, Russia’s Ambassador Andrey Denisov said.
That seemingly minor distinction could actually be heavy with meaning. By reporting to the IAEA board, Elbaradei would implicitly return the issue of Iran to that body and take it out of the hands of the council. In turn, that move could make future council action even less likely.
“We have common objectives, but as far as messages are concerned, we are in the process of discussing,” Denisov said.