Consensus Sought in Security Council Over Iran Nukes

Russia and China remained at odds Tuesday with the United States, Britain and France over a U.N. Security Council statement on Iran's nuclear program, which the three Western nations contend is aimed at producing nuclear weapons.

The five permanent veto-wielding council members met for more than 90 minutes but didn't resolve differences on a proposed British-French draft that would demand Iran halt all uranium enrichment and call for a report within weeks on Iran's progress in answering questions about its nuclear program.

China wants only a short statement reiterating there are concerns about Iran's program, allowing space for continued diplomatic efforts to bring Iran on board, Chinese Ambassador Wang Guangya told reporters afterward.

"What we want is to leave the room and sufficient time for all diplomatic efforts to play," he said. "So therefore I think we should not close all the doors for diplomatic activities."

China also wants to reinforce efforts by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and "not to replace the IAEA," Wang said.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said Washington agrees the IAEA has a role, but also believes "the Security Council has an independent obligation when faced with the risk of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in violation of treaty obligations, which is what the case of Iran is."

He said the Bush administration wants to move "as quickly as we can," although he added that it wants to maintain the unity of the five permanent council members.

"Every day that goes by is a day that permits the Iranians to get closer to a nuclear weapons capability," Bolton said.

Iran insists its atomic program has only the peaceful purpose of using nuclear reactors to generate electricity. Its supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Tuesday that the program is "irreversible" and warned that giving in to international pressure would "break the country's independence."

Later Tuesday, Britain and France were expected to outline their proposed statement to the 10 non-permanent Security Council members, which are elected for two-year terms. Bolton said the five permanent members would meet again Wednesday morning.

The United States, Britain and France think a strong council statement could further isolate Iran and pressure it to abide by demands from the U.N. nuclear watchdog, and they raise the possibility that it might have to resort to tougher measures later, such as sanctions.

Russia and China, which have strong business and political ties to Iran, argue that action would risk angering Tehran further, leading Iran to withdraw from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and kick out IAEA inspectors.

Last month, the IAEA's board voted to report Iran to the Security Council, saying it lacked confidence in the Tehran regime's nuclear intentions and accusing Iran of violating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

Iran responded by ending voluntary cooperation with the IAEA and announcing it would start uranium enrichment and bar surprise inspections of its facilities.