The United States said Thursday momentum is shifting toward the imposition of sanctions against Iran, following talks in Moscow on the Iranian nuclear program by permanent U.N. Security Council member states. The United States says it will press for sanctions in the Security Council next month.
The Moscow meeting, involving the five veto-wielding Security Council member countries as well as others from the G-8 industrial powers, was widely reported to have ended inconclusively.
But the State Department is putting a positive cast on the two-day session, saying that while no decisions were taken, there is a "clear move" toward the imposition of sanctions against Tehran because of its defiance of calls that it stop uranium enrichment.
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the Moscow meeting, originally planned to lay groundwork for the G-8 summit in Russia in July, was never intended as a decision-making session on Iran.
But he said the dialogue at the senior diplomatic level will continue, with a trend building toward punitive action, "I would expect that the discussions will continue over the next couple of weeks on this topic. I think certainly the momentum is shifting in the direction of the international community taking strong diplomatic steps. And that will mean sanctions," he said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency is to report to the Security Council April 28 on Iran's response to the council's non-binding statement in late March, calling on it to end enrichment activity and return to nuclear negotiations.
Iran has given no indication it intends to heed the call, and in fact has trumpeted enrichment breakthroughs in recent days.
Spokesman McCormack said that absent a major change in Iran's attitude, the council would convene early next month to consider punitive steps. He said the United States would seek a resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter that would legally oblige Iran to suspend enrichment and cooperate with the I.A.E.A.
Neither Russia nor China has shown any enthusiasm for stronger Security Council action, and McCormack did not elaborate on his assertion that momentum for punitive action was growing.
He said while the United States' focus was on the Security Council, countries concerned about Iranian behavior could also act unilaterally or in conjunction with groups of states.
Various U.S. sanctions against Iran have been in place for years. But officials here have spoken about the prospect of cutting remaining trade with Iran, while noting the European Union's apparent readiness to impose targeted travel and other sanctions against the Iranian leadership.
Iranian nuclear negotiators arrived in Moscow Wednesday and held separate meetings with Russian officials and with diplomats from Britain, France and Germany, the three European powers that have conducted nuclear negotiations with Iran.
Spokesman McCormack said he was aware of no advance from those talks and dismissed an Iranian offer of what was termed a "technical pause" from its enrichment efforts.
Iran contends it has a right to master a complete fuel cycle for its nominally peaceful nuclear program. The United States alleges that the program has a covert weapons component.