UNITED NATIONS – Key Security Council nations agreed Tuesday to present Iran with a choice of incentives or sanctions in deciding whether to suspend uranium enrichment, a move which will delay a U.N. resolution to curb Iran's nuclear program, a European official said.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stressed, however, that this could not be a substitute for a strong message to Iran from the Security Council "that their behavior to date is unacceptable, and that they need to return to the negotiating table."
Representatives of the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France as well as Germany made the decision to tell Iran the pluses and minuses of its refusal to halt its uranium enrichment program at a meeting after more than three hours of talks by their foreign ministers Monday did not produce an agreement on the resolution.
As a result of Tuesday's decision, representatives from the three European countries that had been spearheading negotiations with Iran will spend the next few days preparing a package of incentives and sanctions, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because there has been no official announcement.
The European official said the package will be presented to European Union foreign ministers on the sidelines of an EU meeting in Brussels on Monday, and if approved will be presented to the Iranian government.
But EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said "Monday may be a little bit too early."
Rice told reporters the United States "has long supported" an effort by Russia and the EU "to make available to the Iranian regime — should they choose to do so — a way to fulfill aspirations for a civil nuclear program,"
"What is being discussed is how might that be made available again," she said.
"But I want to be very clear: The international community is united that there must be a strong message to Iran through the Security Council" that they must halt uranium enrichment and comply with demands by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
The proposed resolution would make the council's previous demand that Iran fulfill these requirements mandatory.
The Chinese and Russians have balked at British, French and U.S. efforts to put the resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter. Such a move would declare Iran a threat to international peace and security and set the stage for further measures if Tehran refuses to comply. Those measures could range from breaking diplomatic relations to economic sanctions and military action.
Asked about Chapter 7, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, "we don't believe that this is necessary to discuss at this stage."
Rice reiterated that the United States believes very strongly that a Chapter 7 resolution is essential to deliver a mandatory statement to Iran.
Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier foreshadowed the EU decision, telling reporters at a news conference late Monday that the Europeans planned to launch a new initiative alongside their effort to win approval of the resolution.
"In the coming days, we want to once again, as we did last summer, outline to Iran what kind of advantages we might offer to them if they were willing to comply with the demands of the international community, and what possibility there would be for further cooperation," Steinmeier said.
The Europeans want the Iranian people to know that they are heading down "a path that would lead them into isolation if they were not to comply with the demands of the international community," he said.
The British, French and Germans cut off more than two years of negotiations with Iran earlier this year after it said it would resume its enrichment activities. They had offered Iran a package of benefits last summer.
Steinmeier said the Europeans will have to talk about details of the new package of "advantages" that would be offered to Iran. "But I'm optimistic on the basis of the discussion we had tonight," he said.
The European official said the package of benefits is likely to include issues related to energy security and civilian nuclear power.
The EU's Solana refused to discuss specifics, saying only, "we're working very, very hard."
Russia's Lavrov said he did not like the phrase "carrots and sticks."
"I prefer to speak about reasonable proposals which would show positive alternatives," he said. "If Iran cooperates, I believe the negotiations would resume like they were taking place in the past between the European Troika and Iran, with the support of Russia, China and the United States."
The deeply divided Security Council has been wrestling with the draft resolution, sponsored by Britain and France and backed by the United States.
U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said Monday the United States wanted a vote this week, with or without Russian and Chinese support.
But Rice said Tuesday "we're going to take the time that we need to make certain that the members of the international community have an opportunity to develop a strategy moving forward."
Steinmeier said there are still five or six outstanding issues in the draft resolution.
"I think they probably need another 10 days, 14 days, to get that resolution" adopted, he said.
Rice had a message for the Iranians: Accept the international community's proposals for civilian nuclear power "because no one wants to isolate the Iranian people."
Lavrov had an implicit message for the United States.
"My very strong conviction is that it's only through direct negotiations between all interested parties that we can find a solution which would on the one hand guarantee the inviolability of the nonproliferation regime, and on the other hand guarantee ... the responsible members of NPT (Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty) the right to peaceful use of nuclear energy," he said.
The United States has invited direct talks with Iran but only on the security situation in Iraq. Those talks have not taken place, and the Bush administration rules out direct engagement on any other subject.