U.N. Security Council members have held their first talks on Iran's nuclear program, and could begin formal consultations by the end of the week. The Council action is aimed at intensifying pressure on Tehran to comply with its nuclear obligations.
The 15 Security Council ambassadors met informally outside the U.N. building Tuesday to discuss a draft statement urging Iran to suspend activities that could be aimed at making nuclear weapons.
For the five permanent Council members, it was their fifth such meeting since last Wednesday, when they received the Iran dossier from International Atomic Energy Agency. But for the 10 elected Council members, it was their first peek at the text that has divided the Permanent Five into two camps.
Co-authors Britain and France, along with the United States, are pushing for quick adoption of the text, which would call on IAEA Director Mohamed ElBaradei to report on Iranian compliance with the agency's requirements in as little as 14 days.
But the draft has failed to win support from the two other permanent Council members, Russia and China.
China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya Tuesday said Beijing opposes pressuring Tehran. He said China favors allowing more time for diplomatic efforts, and keeping the atomic energy agency in the lead role.
"I think we must take urgent actions, but I believe there are still room for diplomatic activities," said Wang Guangya. "I believe the Russians are talking to the Iranians, and there are others. We are also playing our role. Therefore I think that whatever the Council's to play the role is number one to reinforce the IAEA authority and number two leave sufficient time for diplomatic efforts to take place."
U.S. Ambassador John Bolton has repeatedly called for urgent action on Iran. Tuesday he pointed to published reports in which Tehran's former top nuclear negotiator admitted having used recent negotiations with European countries to dupe them while Iran was mastering the conversion of so-called uranium yellowcake -a key stage in the nuclear fuel process.
Bolton said Iran's admission had underscored the need for maintaining unity among the five veto-wielding Council members.
"The IAEA has reported they've converted enough yellowcake to make about 85 tons of uranium hexafluoride, which the physicists can tell you can be converted, once it's highly enriched, to 10, or so nuclear weapons, so every day that goes by is a day that permits the Iranians to get closer to a nuclear weapons capability," said John Bolton. "Now we want to proceed prudently and carefully, but its one reason our concern was to bring this matter to the Security Council, and now that we're here, to try and move expeditiously."
A senior U.S. official briefing reporters on background Tuesday said if Iran had a couple hundred pounds of highly-enriched uranium, it could possibly produce a nuclear weapon within a year. Thus far, however, the official said Iranian scientists have not mastered the technology necessary to enrich the low-grade uranium hexafluoride it is believed to have.
Diplomats say the Security Council will hold another informal meeting on Iran Thursday, with a view to formal consultations on the draft text Friday.
In the meantime, the Council's five permanent members will continue their daily series of meetings Wednesday. They hope to iron out differences that could prevent the consensus needed to adopt the British-French draft.
After Tuesday's session, Ambassador Bolton emphasized the positive, saying the so-called Perm-five remain united in their determination not to allow Iran to achieve a nuclear weapons capability. Chinese Ambassador Wang agreed, saying "the objective is the same". But, he added, "the question is, what is the best way to achieve those objectives".