UNITED NATIONS – U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said Thursday the U.N. Security Council appears determined to send a "strong and clear signal" to Tehran about its suspect nuclear program, after a meeting of the powerful U.N. body that he described as the best so far.
In an informal gathering of the 15 council members, diplomats agreed to hold the first formal Security Council consultations on Friday — a sign that a split between Britain, France and the United States on the one hand, and China and Russia on the other, may have closed somewhat.
In addition, senior officials from six key countries involved in negotiations over Iran's nuclear program will convene Monday to try to hammer out a final deal and discuss what the council ought to do after it makes its first statement on Iran.
"I would describe today's meetings as the best we've had so far," Bolton said after the talks, the full council's second informal meeting on Iran. "The mood of the discussion is certainly in the direction of a strong and clear signal to Iran on the part of the Security Council."
Members of the council have grappled with the issue for a week, since the board of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, sent a report on Iran to the Security Council. The board said it lacked confidence in Tehran's nuclear intentions and accused Iran of violating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Britain, France and the United States want the Security Council to call on Iran to abandon uranium enrichment and comply with other demands by the IAEA to clear up suspicions about its program. They suspect Iran is trying to build a nuclear bomb.
Russia and China, which are allies of Iran, are not as skeptical of Tehran's intentions, and have said in the past that tough council action could spark an Iranian withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and expulsion of inspectors from the IAEA. They also fear a chain reaction of council action that could lead to tougher measures later on, such as sanctions.
Uranium enrichment can be used either in electricity generation or to make nuclear weapons. Iran insists its program is to produce nuclear energy — not weapons — but the International Atomic Energy Agency has raised concerns that Tehran might be seeking nuclear arms.
Bolton and the ambassadors from France and Britain refused to discuss what progress had been made.
But diplomats said that Britain and France, who have taken the lead on crafting a council response, planned to draw up a text and present it to the rest of the council at Friday's closed-door discussion.
"We moved forward," France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said.
China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya was more equivocal in brief remarks to the press.
"I think the differences are still there," he said. "There are some common points but there are also some differences."
It's unlikely the council will come to a final decision before Monday, when senior officials from the council's five veto-wielding nations — the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China — and Germany will meet in New York.
That meeting would bring together the most senior foreign affairs officials from those nations since a London gathering on Jan. 30.
Bolton told reporters that the top diplomats would talk about what to do after the first council action. He described those talks as separate from the issue of the text discussed Thursday.
The diplomats will try to come up with a "clear strategy" on what happens next, Russia's Deputy U.N. Ambassador Konstantin Dolgov told The Associated Press. "We need to have an agreed way ahead within the IAEA, in the Security Council."