UNITED NATIONS – U.N. Security Council members sought to break a deadlock over Iran's suspect nuclear program Wednesday after Britain and France could not get Russia and China to agree on how to pressure Tehran to stop enriching uranium, diplomats said.
Nonetheless, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said she was confident that the council could come to an agreement.
"We will come up with a vehicle, I am quite certain of that," Rice said during a trip to the Bahamas. "We have work still to do. This is the natural course of diplomacy. If it takes a little longer, I'm not really concerned about that."
As Rice spoke, the five veto-wielding members of the Security Council — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — convened at the U.S. mission to the U.N. but reported no new progress in formulating a council statement.
The lack of progress, which followed a decision to scrap full council discussions Tuesday, reflected just how much the United States and its European allies had failed to get Russia and China on board during a meeting of high-level diplomats in New York the night before.
One council diplomat described that meeting as a setback for British, French and American efforts to craft a tough council response to Iran, which the West believes is seeking nuclear weapons. Russia and China are firm in their belief that any Security Council action should be mild.
"We're trying to get back on track from where we were before last night's meetings," the diplomat said on condition of anonymity because the talks were confidential. "The Russians and the Chinese came in guns ablazing."
The United States and its European allies want the Security Council to approve a statement reiterating demands by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, that Iran suspend uranium enrichment, the process that can be used to generate nuclear power or make nuclear weapons.
Iran insists its program is for generating electricity.
Diplomats said the Russians and Chinese have not budged from their opposition to tough language seeking a report in 14 days on Iran's compliance with the IAEA demands. Moscow and Beijing have said that is not enough time, with China suggesting 30-45 days.
Russia and China also want the IAEA to keep the main role in cajoling Iran on uranium enrichment. They have raised concerns that pushing Iran too hard could lead to its withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and expulsion of IAEA inspectors.
Monday's meeting had been intended to discuss broad strategy and a first council response. Britain, for example, has proposed offering Iran a package of unspecified incentives as a way of getting Russia and China to agree to the threat of tougher council measures later on.
But the sides made little headway, emerging only to express concern that Iran had not yet met IAEA demands.
The lack of any significant movement after 10 days could lead the Western nations to abandon the presidential statement, which requires the consensus of all 15 council members, in favor of a resolution, a council diplomat said on condition of anonymity because the issue had not been raised with members yet.
That would put Russia and China in the position of having to approve, abstain or veto action against Iran.
Negotiations between Iran and France, Germany and Britain, acting on behalf of the European Union, collapsed in August after Tehran rejected an incentives package offered in return for a permanent end to uranium enrichment.
Its subsequent moves to develop full-blown enrichment capabilities led the IAEA's 35-nation board to ask for Security Council involvement earlier this year.