The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council have begun mapping out a strategy on how to handle the Iran nuclear issue. The first steps are expected to be small.
The U.N. ambassadors of China, Russia, France, Britain and the United States huddled together late Wednesday to consider their response to Iran's nuclear defiance. The meeting came hours after the International Atomic Energy Agency wrapped up inconclusive talks on the issue in Vienna, and sent a report to New York.
Those in attendance described the meeting as preliminary. Another session was set for Friday, and more meetings are likely next week.
Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said he feels a sense of urgency, given Iran's uranium enrichment activity and attempts to overcome technical difficulties in their nuclear program.
"We're going to be talking about the way ahead, particularly in view of the Iranian enrichment in violation of their commitments and obligations under the IAEA resolutions, and to discuss what the appropriate response and role of the Security Council will be," he said.
China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya came away from Wednesday meeting calling the situation "serious". But he told reporters "all measures must not aggravate the situation."
French envoy Jean-Marc de La Sabliere suggested the Council would approach the issue cautiously. "The action of the Council should be gradual, and we will follow a gradual approach. Why are we following a gradual approach, because what we want is Iran to go back to suspension," he said.
One U.N. diplomat who asked not to be identified said Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones-Parry had suggested that atomic energy agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei report within two weeks on Iran's compliance with I.A.E.A. resolutions.
The United States and European countries say they want to increase pressure on Iran slowly, first setting timetables and deadlines. Only later would measures such as targeted sanctions be considered.
Ambassador Jones-Parry told reporters the Council's first small step would be drafting the text of a joint statement. "We're at a very tentative stage. What is clear is in response to what happened in Vienna we will now intensify discussions here to see exactly what we should be doing in the Council, and I would envisage out of that will come an understanding as to when exactly we will introduce text in the Council," he said.
Earlier in the day, visiting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov suggested Moscow would oppose any attempt to impose sanctions on Iran. After a meeting with Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Lavrov said Russia's view is that sanctions do not work.
"I don't think sanctions as a means to solve a crisis have ever achieved a goal in recent history. I reiterate, we must rely on the professional advice of IAEA, the watchdog of the non proliferation regime hired by all of us," he said.
I.A.E.A. chief ElBaradei said Wednesday he thinks a political solution to the standoff is still possible.
In a statement given to the I.A.E.A. Wednesday, Iranian officials said they remain open to talks despite pending Security Council action.
But the statement also threatened the United States with "harm and pain" for bringing the issue to the Council. A White House spokesman later said the threat had deepened Iran's international isolation.