The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council agreed Tuesday that Iran should be hauled before that powerful body over its disputed nuclear program. China and Russia, longtime allies and trading partners of Iran, signed on to a statement that calls on the U.N. nuclear watchdog to transfer the Iran dossier to the Security Council, which could impose sanctions or take other harsh action.
Foreign ministers from those nations, plus the United States, Britain and France, also said the Security Council should wait until March to take up the Iran case, after a formal report on Tehran's activities from the watchdog agency.
Any of the five permanent members of the Security Council, all nuclear powers themselves, can veto an action voted by the full council membership.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other foreign ministers discussed Iran at a private dinner at the home of British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. After the four-hour meeting, which spilled over into the early hours Tuesday, a joint statement called on the International Atomic Energy Agency to report the Iran case when it meets in Vienna on Thursday.
Foreign ministers from Germany and the European Union also attended the dinner and agreed to what amounted to a compromise, take the case to the Security Council but allow a short breather before the council undertakes what could be a divisive debate.
The group agreed that the IAEA "should report to the Security Council its decision on the steps required of Iran, and should also report to the Security Council all IAEA reports as resolutions as adopted relating to this issue," a statement from the group said.
A French government spokesman said the Russian and Chinese ministers had initially been reluctant to refer Iran to the Security Council, but had been persuaded of the need for the council members to show a united front.
"It was important for the five permanent members of the Security Council, and Germany, before the meeting on Thursday, to have this debate. That was the point of holding the talks," said the spokesman, who spoke on the customary condition of anonymity. "It was very important to make sure they are all together on this issue and all agree on the same position."
He said ministers discussed a Russian proposal to carry out enrichment on Iran's behalf, but were not convinced the Iranian authorities were ready to accept the offer.
"The problem is that it isn't clear what the Iranians are prepared to accept, but everyone agreed to the fact that the Russian proposal is a good way to help control the problem," the spokesman said. The IAEA has already found Iran in violation of nuclear obligations and issued a stern warning to Tehran in September. Thursday's vote would be the next step, one long sought by the United States.
Iran insists its nuclear program is intended only to produce electricity. The United States and some allies say Iran is hiding ambitions to build a nuclear bomb, but the Security Council members have been divided about how strong a line to take. It is still not clear how Russia and China would vote if the questions of sanctions came before the Security Council. It is also not clear that the United States will win the broad international consensus it seeks when the IAEA votes.
On Monday, Rice said the world agreed that Iran should not have the means of developing a nuclear weapon, and she criticized Iran's response to Russian attempts to mediate in the standoff.
"We believe that there is a lot of life left in the diplomacy," Rice said. "After all, going to the Security Council is not the end of diplomacy. It's just diplomacy in a different, more robust context,” reports the AP. I.L.
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