UNITED NATIONS – The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council weighed proposals for an initial response to the Iran nuclear crisis Thursday, as Washington urged its allies to consider targeted sanctions and the entire council planned its first meeting on the issue next week.
Those deliberations were early signs of growing international efforts to persuade Iran to give up uranium enrichment and clear up questions about its nuclear energy program. Iran insists its program is for peaceful purposes, while the United States contends that Tehran is working toward a nuclear weapon.
The U.N. ambassadors from Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States convened for the first time late Wednesday to discuss their first response, which will probably be a nonbinding presidential statement that expresses the council's position. They planned another meeting Friday.
The toughest talk so far has come from Washington, where Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said the United States wants the statement to include some condemnation of Iran. He said the U.S. may eventually seek a so-called Chapter 7 resolution, which can be enforced with military action.
Burns suggested Wednesday that Washington would also urge its allies to move beyond the Security Council and impose targeted sanctions against Iran if it doesn't clear up the doubts surrounding its nuclear program.
"Now, we'll begin a diplomatic phase there of conversations, discussions, presidential statements and resolutions," Burns told a congressional committee. "But should they not work, then we're going to have to have a harder edge, and I mean harder diplomatic edge to the policy. And that would be the consideration of targeted sanctions."
Russia and China are opposed to sanctions and would almost certainly block any effort for the council to impose such measures. Underscoring Russia's reluctance to condemn Iran, Ambassador Andrey Denisov said even the British proposal for Elbaradei to come back in two weeks with a new report on Iran's compliance didn't give Tehran enough time.
The meeting of the council's five permanent members came just hours after the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors wrapped up a meeting in Vienna and sent a Feb. 27 report on Iran's activities to the council. That action formally cleared the way for the Security Council to take up the Iran issue.
Council members planned no meetings for Thursday, leaving the day for their governments to consider the early proposals before the five permanent members convene again.
In Washington, Burns said he expected the entire 15-nation council to take up the issue Monday or Tuesday, but other diplomats said it might not happen so soon.
Some nations, particularly China and Russia, fear that tough council action will lead Iran to abandon the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty for good and expel IAEA inspectors.
"We should all strive for a solution which would not endanger the ability of the IAEA to continue its work in Iran, while of course making sure that there is no danger for the nonproliferation regime," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Wednesday after meeting with U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
On Thursday, Iran's leaders warned that the West will suffer more than Iran if it takes action against its nuclear program, rejecting Iran's referral to the U.N. Security Council as unjust.