Senior officials from six countries held talks in Paris Tuesday to find common ground on how to deal with the Iran nuclear standoff. The discussions come ahead of a critical U.N. meeting in which U.S. and European governments want to push for sanctions against Tehran.
The diplomats who met in Paris late Tuesday remain at odds over how to deal with Tehran, just days after the International Atomic Energy Agency declared Iran was violating a United Nations demand that it stop nuclear enrichment activities. The IAEA's latest report was on the agenda of the Paris meeting, gathering representatives from the United States, Britain, France, Germany, China and Russia.
Earlier in the day, Under-Secretary of State Nicholas Burns told reporters in Paris that European governments are expected to prepare a U.N. resolution calling for sanctions against Tehran.
"Frankly, eventually, in this diplomatic process, the United States believes that sanctions are in order against the government of Iran," said Burns. "Sanctions to isolate the government of Iran, to increase the pressure, diplomatic pressure, on the government of Iran to convince (it) to go back to a more reasonable policy of suspension of its activities and negotiations."
But while the United States favors sanctions against Iran, China and Russia continue to oppose them.
In a report published by Tehran's daily Kayhan newspaper, Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said he was confident that Beijing and Moscow will not change their positions. Iran also announced Tuesday that it had found new uranium deposits. Tehran argues its nuclear program is for purely peaceful purposes, and that it has the right to do pursue it. But Western governments fear it may be trying to build nuclear weapons.
The issue of U.N. sanctions may be raised at a May 9th foreign ministers meeting in New York. As permanent members of the Security Council, both China and Russia can veto U.N. resolutions they disagree with.
If the six nations fail to reach agreement on sanctions, French analyst Guillaume Parmentier says few diplomatic alternatives exist to punish Iran. "Unilateral sanctions are out of the question," he said, "because the Americans know now that unilateral sanctions hurt American companies but don't hurt foreign companies. That's not a very good idea."
Parmentier, who heads the French Center on the United States, a Paris research institute, also dismisses chances the United States would seek a military option in the standoff. "There are war guns [sounding] in Washington, but that doesn't mean anything at this stage," he said. "There is no question of a U.S. occupation of Iran. The U.S. is not in a military position to that."
U.S. officials have said they are pursuing a diplomatic solution to the dispute over Iran's nuclear program, but they have also said that all options, including military ones, are being considered.