The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council are considering proposals for demanding Iran's compliance with its nuclear treaty obligations. Council members are divided on what role the Council should play regarding Iran's nuclear ambitions.
The Chinese, French, British, Russian and American ambassadors to the U.N. held a closed-door Iran strategy session late Friday. Diplomats say the object of the 90-minute meeting was to agree on a statement that could be issued by the entire Security Council as early as next week.
A draft circulated by Britain and France Wednesday and seen by several reporters calls on Iran to halt all work that could be related to building nuclear weapons "without delay". It asks International Atomic Energy Agency Director Mohamed ElBaradei to report to the Council within a "short timeframe" on Iran's progress in answering questions about its nuclear activities.
The Security Council has the power to impose sanctions on Iran, but veto-wielding members Russia and China have indicated opposition to such measures. Russian and Chinese diplomats have in recent days questioned the Security Council's rolein the matter, saying it should be secondary to that of the I.A.E.A.
Before Friday's meeting, Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said any talk of sanctions at this stage would be premature. "We haven't put sanctions on the table at this point, but it has been a fact, as Secretary of State Rice says, there are a variety of steps we could take in the Security Council. Everything really depends on Iran. The key to this is in Iran's hand. If they give up their pursuit of nuclear weapons, then a variety of other things are possible, but we've made it clear that it's not acceptable for Iran to have nuclear weapons, and pursuing through peaceful and diplomatic means our efforts to achieve that, that's what we're focused on here," he said.
The British and French U.N. ambassadors have urged a go-slow approach on Iran. But in Vienna Friday, European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana refused to rule out sanctions. E.U. diplomats said it was the first such explicit mention of sanction.
In Washington Friday, President Bush said he still hopes for a diplomatic way to address Iran's nuclear ambitions. But he called Iran a "grave national security concern".
"We want the Iranians to hear loud and clear that the world is speaking with one voice when it comes to their capacity to develop a nuclear weapon. Remember now, the reason we are where we are is because they had agreed to international norms and then were caught not adhering to the international norms. They basically tried to pull one over on the world, and to me that is a warning signal we got to take seriously," he said.
Iran has repeatedly denied it is seeking nuclear weapons, and maintained its atomic program is for peaceful purposes. News agencies Friday quoted a senior Iranian cleric as warning the Security Council to be careful before making further decisions on Iran.
The 35-member I.A.E.A. sent the Security Council its report of Iran's nuclear activities Wednesday, saying it could not be sure if Tehran was enriching uranium for military purposes.
American intelligence officials have not said when they think Iran could have a nuclear weapon. But Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has said Washington must move Tehran from what she called its "dangerous course" as soon as possible.