The U.N. Security Council headed for a replay of its divisive debate over Iran's nuclear ambitions, with the United States, Britain and France at odds again with China and Russia. But this time the stakes are higher.
A new report Friday from the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, confirmed what diplomats and the world already knew: Iran has refused to stop enriching uranium as the council demanded a month ago.
The council's three veto-wielding Western nations immediately announced plans to introduce a new Security Council resolution next week that would make Iran's compliance with their demands mandatory. To intensify pressure, they want the resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which means it can be enforced through sanctions or military action.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov — a steadfast opponent of sanctions — told his Iranian counterpart Manouchehr Mottaki by telephone Saturday that Iran must halt enrichment and cooperate with the IAEA.
According to a Foreign Ministry statement, Lavrov demanded that Iran suspend research and development on enrichment and "provide full-format cooperation" with the IAEA to "clear up the IAEA's remaining questions."
Russia and China, the other two countries with veto power, oppose sanctions and military action and want the Iran nuclear issue resolved diplomatically, with the IAEA taking the lead, not the Security Council.
Iran's enrichment program has come under intense scrutiny because enriched uranium can be used to fuel civilian power plants, which Tehran says it wants, or to produce nuclear weapons, which is what Western nations suspect the Islamic country wants.
It took weeks of painstaking negotiations to craft the March 29 council statement giving Iran 30 days to stop enriching uranium, and the result was much weaker than the West wanted.
With the possibility of sanctions or military action on the horizon, the upcoming negotiations are certain to be even more divisive.
At least for the moment, the five permanent members all agree on one key point: The best way to resolve the nuclear standoff with Iran is through diplomacy.
But the initial reactions to the report by IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, which also accused Iran of blocking U.N. attempts to find out whether it wants nuclear arms, showed how far apart the key players are.
Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, remained defiant, saying no Security Council resolution could make Iran give up its nuclear program.
"The Iranian nation won't give a damn about such useless resolutions," Ahmadinejad told thousands of people Friday in northwestern Iran before the IAEA report was issued.
"Those who resort to language of coercion should know that nuclear energy is a national demand and by the grace of God, today Iran is a nuclear country," state-run television quoted him as saying.
Iran's U.N. Ambassador Javan Zarif was more conciliatory Saturday, saying "there are a multitude of possibilities for reaching a solution" if all parties agree that while Iran should not develop atomic weapons, it has the right to nuclear power.
"I believe if you start from these two assumptions and not draw arbitrary red lines then we will be able to reach a mutually acceptable negotiated solution," Zarif told the British Broadcasting Corp.
He accused Western nations of lacking political will to resolve the problem and creating "an unnecessary crisis" by bringing in the Security Council.
"We have said from the very beginning that bringing the Security Council into the picture does not help because Iran does not respond well to pressure," he said.
Iran's deputy nuclear chief, Mohammad Saeedi, said uranium enrichment would continue and announced the country was installing two more 164-centrifuge cascades at its enrichment plant in Natanz. Iran successfully enriched uranium for the first time earlier this month, using 164 centrifuges.
But Saeedi told state-run television said Tehran would be willing to allow the return of intrusive inspections of its nuclear facilities if the matter was returned to the IAEA. Iran banned such inspections in February after it was referred to the Security Council.
The White House was dismissive of Iran's offer.
"Today's statement does not change our position that the Iranian government must give up its nuclear ambitions, nor does it affect our decision to move forward to the United Nations Security Council," spokesman Blaine Rethmeier said.
U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said Friday that "the IAEA report shows that Iran has accelerated its efforts to acquire nuclear weapons although, of course, the report doesn't make any conclusions in that regard."
He told reporters the United States hopes to move "as a matter of urgency" and introduce a Chapter 7 resolution next week. It would give Iran "a very short" period to comply and halt enrichment.
Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry called it "a calibrated approach which is reversible if Iran was prepared to comply fully with the wishes of the international community."
"A diplomatic solution is what we're all working for, and our patience must be pretty consistent there in order that we achieve that," he stressed.
China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya echoed the need for a diplomatic solution "because this region is already complicated ... and we should not do anything that would cause the situation (to be) more complicated."
He said the implication of a Chapter 7 resolution is clear: It will lead to a series of resolutions, complicating the situation and creating uncertainty.
"I think whatever we do we should promote diplomacy," Wang said.