The five veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council are rushing to reach agreement on a statement confronting Iran's suspect nuclear program before their foreign ministers meet later this week. Ambassadors are close to an accord.
After a series of meetings Tuesday, the so-called "Perm-five" Security Council members emerged expressing optimism that three weeks of negotiations might finally bear fruit.
Britain and France were distributing to all Council members what they hope will be the final draft of a statement pressuring Iran to suspend processing uranium that could be used in nuclear weapons. Tehran has denied it is seeking a nuclear weapons capability.
As he emerged from the final meeting late Tuesday Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emir Jones-Parry told reporters "we're not quite there yet". But he said a vote could come as early as Wednesday, if the new text succeeds in overcoming staunch Russian and Chinese objections.
"The earliest we could see it adopted would be tomorrow afternoon," said Emir Jones-Parry. "But I'm not sure we're actually on course for that yet, but we'll see. We'll see the reaction. We have to go to the whole Council."
With agreement close, Washington's U.N. Ambassador John Bolton said he was canceling a scheduled appearance before a congressional committee Wednesday to remain in New York.
"We've reached agreement on the bulk of the text, so there was movement on all sides, and now we need to see if we can cross this last bridge, but we're very close," said John Bolton.
Bolton said there is still one outstanding issue blocking agreement. He would not elaborate, but other diplomats have said Russia remains opposed to language in the statement that could be used as a basis for imposing Security Council sanctions on Iran in the future. China has expressed similar concerns.
Russia's U.N. Ambassador Andrey Denisov said he was optimistic about agreement, but cautioned that, in his words "nothing is agreed upon until everything is agreed upon".
Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya was also cautious, saying "the talks are not yet at the final stage" In a sign of the lingering tensions that have characterized the weeks of negotiations, he called on all members of the P-five to show more flexibility.
"I don't know," said Wang Guangya. "I think we have to be flexible on each of the P-five to make progress."
When asked about the Chinese ambassador's comment, Bolton said the United States was willing to compromise in the interest of bringing the lengthy negotiations to a close.
"We have been incredibly flexible, probably never been more flexible, and we'll see tomorrow, but we have made progress today, made considerable progress today, but other governments are going to have to go back to their capitals, and so we have to wait till tomorrow," he said.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was said to be involved in telephone negotiations on Iran Tuesday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other foreign ministers of the permanent member countries.
Meanwhile, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan again called on Iran to listen to the demands put forth by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Speaking to reporters on his return from a trip to Africa, Mr. Annan said "the issue in the Security Council really is who should deal with the file, whether it is at the technical level at the IAEA, or whether it should come to the Council".