UNITED NATIONS, (Reuters) – The five U.N. Security Council powers are close to a deal on Iran’s suspect nuclear program and hope for approval of a new draft statement when the full council meets on Wednesday, diplomats said.
Britain and France, backed by the United States, distributed a revised text late on Tuesday to all 15 Security Council members that makes concessions to Russia and China. But it still calls on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment efforts, which the West believes are a cover for bomb making.
“We have reached agreement on the bulk of the text, so there was movement on all sides. And now we need to see whether we can cross this last bridge, but we’re very close,” U.S. Ambassador John Bolton told reporters on Tuesday.
“We have been incredibly flexible. Incredibly flexible. I probably have never been more flexible,” Bolton said of the compromises.
The Security Council consults on Wednesday afternoon after the five powers meet again. The hope is that the statement will be adopted then or at least be ready for approval early on Thursday when foreign ministers of the five council powers and Germany meet in Berlin to discuss strategy toward Iran. But not all issues have been settled and a presidential statement, compared to a resolution, needs the approval of all 15 nations with seats on the council.
Negotiations have stretched over three weeks on the statement, which is nonbinding and threatens no punitive measures. But Russia, backed by China, fear Security Council involvement will lay the groundwork for tougher action, such as sanctions, which they have vowed to oppose.
The International Atomic Energy Agency, the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog, referred the Iranian dossier to the council on March 8 after Tehran resumed nuclear fuel work. This prompted European negotiators — Germany, France and Britain — to break off 2-1/2 years of talks. Oil-rich Iran insists its programs are to develop nuclear energy only.
One change in the text is a watering down of a phrase calling Iran’s actions a possible “threat to international peace and security,” a term that Beijing and Moscow said established an escalation of council involvement.
The new version notes the council’s “primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security” as defined in the U.N. Charter. But this language has still not been approved by Russia, diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of
secret negotiations, and is considered the main obstacle.
The new text also deletes specific charges and demands on Iran’s nuclear program. Instead it refers to resolutions of the IAEA board that mention them.
Another modification is a request that the IAEA director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, report back on Iran’s compliance within 30 days instead of the 14 days in the original text.
In Washington on Tuesday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States had “a number of tools” to isolate Iran and “if necessary, within the U.N. Security Council.”
She did not elaborate but the implication was some form of punitive action, such as sanctions.
In London, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw sought to assure Russia and China that Security Council action would not lead to military strikes.
“As to the possibility of this leading to another Iraq, it won’t. I have made clear often enough that I don’t regard military action as appropriate or indeed conceivable,” Straw said. “Nor do I believe there would be any international consensus on that and I think Russia and China are well reassured on that.”