VIENNA, Austria – The United States and its European allies will not push to have Iran referred to the U.N. Security Council this week to give Russia extra time to try to persuade Tehran to compromise on its nuclear activities, diplomats and officials told The Associated Press on Monday.
Their comments came three days before the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board meets to consider options on Iran and its suspect nuclear program that include possible Security Council referral.
But that option now appeared to be off the table, according to the diplomats and U.S. and European government officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the strategy for dealing with Iran is confidential.
Instead, they said Tehran would be given more time to accept a plan that would move Iran's uranium enrichment reprocessing to Russia, depriving the Iranians of the chance to enrich uranium to weapons grade, suitable for use in the core of nuclear warheads.
Iran says it only wants to enrich to lower levels of uranium to generate energy. Still, it has resisted the plan to move its enrichment capabilities to Russia, insisting it has the right to all aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle.
Iran resumed uranium reprocessing — one step before uranium enrichment — at its Isfahan facility in August. Iran's parliament on Sunday also approved a bill requiring its government to block any in-depth U.N. inspections of its nuclear facilities if Iran is referred to the Security Council.
EU foreign ministers urged Iran on Monday to live up to the "clear obligations" made to the international community to allow U.N. inspectors to tour its nuclear facilities.
But EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said he hoped to avoid a showdown with Tehran. "We still have time to continue work," he said.
Russia, Iran's key partner in building Tehran's first nuclear power plant, has considerable clout with Tehran, but the officials and diplomats said other considerations also went into the decision to postpone a showdown on referring Iran to the Security Council at the IAEA board meeting.
Belarus, Cuba and Syria joined Venezuela on the board in September. With those anti-U.S. nations on board, any vote on referral would be more strongly opposed than the resolution passed at the last board meeting two months ago that declared Iran's past activities in violation of the nuclear nonproliferation treaty.
The U.S. official said that "would look like a step backward."
With criticism of President Bush's Iraq war policy mounting at home, the official said the administration was willing to wait and build international consensus over what to do about Iran rather than give the impression of diplomatic defeat.
A European diplomat in Brussels also suggested the U.S.-European coalition was willing to give the Russian plan a chance to succeed. If it fails, they may be hoping that nations currently against referring Iran to the Security Council, such as India, Brazil and South Africa, change their positions.
They also hope to get Russian support for referral. With its veto power, Russia could cripple any attempt to pressure Iran to compromise on its nuclear activities through sanctions or political pressure.
The U.S. has begun to draft a resolution setting a time table for Iran to accept the Russian plan and other conditions, threatening Security Council referral if it doesn't, the diplomats and officials said.
However, they said the document was unlikely to surface. Instead, the board will probably agree on a statement criticizing Iran's foot-dragging on cooperation with the IAEA probe into its nuclear activities.