Talks between European foreign ministers and Iran over its nuclear ambitions broke up Friday without any agreement, making U.N. Security Council action against Tehran as early as next week appear more likely.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said the European Union had been demanding "full and complete suspension" of Iran's uranium enrichment and related activities.
"Unfortunately we were not able to reach an agreement," he told reporters after meeting with Iranian negotiators for just over two hours.
Germany's Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the meeting ended "without achieving a result." The sides met for just over two hours.
The talks took place ahead of a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board that begins Monday.
The board put the Security Council, which could impose sanctions, on alert about the issue Feb. 4 after Iran refused to heed requests to reimpose a suspension on enrichment, which can make both nuclear fuel or the fissile material for warheads.
The IAEA board meeting was expected to recommend further measures to the Security Council, but it wasn't clear Friday what those could be.
Iran insists its enrichment program is for the peaceful purpose of creating electricity, but a growing number of nations share U.S. fears that that is not the case.
Steinmeier urged the Iranians to reconsider before the IAEA board makes a decision, "so that we can return to the process of negotiations" instead of confrontation.
European Union foreign affairs chief Javier Solana said the nuclear impasse had reached "a very critical moment," adding, "We have expressed that very clearly to our friends."
Iranian chief negotiator Ali Larijani arrived from Moscow where Russia tried to persuade Iran to accept its offer to enrich uranium for Iran. He warned in the Russian capital that asking the Security Council to act — as the U.S. has demanded — would kill Moscow's initiative.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, also Moscow's former envoy to the United Nations, said Friday that global powers had not agreed on any action to be taken by the Security Council.
Moscow was among those voting to report Iran to the Security Council. But it and China, a fellow council member with veto rights, are opposed to punitive measures.
Russia, which has major commercial ties with Iran, has sought in recent weeks to broker a deal to defuse Western concerns that Tehran is seeking to build nuclear weapons. But its offer to create a joint venture to enrich uranium for Tehran on Russian territory has faltered over Iran's refusal to freeze its domestic uranium-enrichment program.
"There is no collectively discussed and agreed strategy of what we all will be doing in the Security Council if the issue is there," Lavrov told a small group of reporters in Moscow.
He stressed that while European countries have said no force would be used, the United States has said no options are excluded.
"I know how the Security Council works. You start with a soft reminder, then you call upon, then you require, you demand, you threaten. It will become a self-propelling function," said .
Lavrov said that there was still a chance of negotiating a deal with Tehran before Monday's IAEA board meeting of the IAEA in Vienna, Austria.
"I would not yet state that time is running out; these days, a few days is a lot," he said. "Let's give this a chance."
Iran restarted some enrichment activities last month, two years after voluntarily freezing the program during talks with the Europeans that unraveled late last year.
There had been little hope the Vienna meeting would achieve a breakthrough. Both sides had made clear before they began that they were not budging from their positions; the Europeans demanded that Iran freeze all enrichment activities and Iran insisted they would not.