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(photo credit: AP)
Russia's UN ambassador on Friday rejected proposals that would have the UN Security Council demand a quick progress report on Iran's suspected nuclear program, saying half in jest that fast action could lead to the bombing of Iran by June.
Andrey Denisov spoke just before a UN Security Council meeting where diplomats planned to consider a revised list of British, French and American proposals for a statement on Iran. The latest draft proposals, obtained by The Associated Press, retain many elements that Russia and China have opposed.
A key sticking point for Russia is a proposal asking Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to deliver a progress report in two weeks on Iran's progress toward clearing up suspicions about its nuclear program. They say two weeks is far too soon.
"Let's just imagine that we adopt it and today we issued that statement - then what happens after two weeks?" Denisov said in an interview. "In such a pace we'll start bombing in June."
Denisov chuckled after he made the remark, but it reflected Russia's fears that the international community has not yet decided how to respond if Iran continues to resist demands that it make explicitly clear it is not seeking nuclear arms.
To address that concern, senior officials from six key countries involved in negotiations over Iran's nuclear program will convene Monday to discuss both initial council action and the larger strategy toward Iran. The officials from Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany will talk about both the proposals circulated Friday and overall strategy.
For the last week, the Security Council has debated the best way to address the Iran issue. The split is now between Britain, France and the United States, which want a statement spelling out a number of detailed demands, and Russia and China, which believe that such action would send the wrong message to Iran.
Russia and China, which are allies of Iran, have said in the past that tough council action could spark an Iranian withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. They also fear a chain reaction of council action that could lead to tougher measures later on, such as sanctions.
Backed by the United States, Britain and France have proposed a statement that would spell out a list of demands that have already been made by the IAEA. They include a demand that Iran suspend uranium enrichment and take steps toward greater transparency and more cooperation.
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.
Even though the demands in the British and French proposals are not new, Denisov said Russia would prefer the council to simply refer to the documents in which the IAEA board made those demands.
The primary concern of Russia and China throughout has been that the IAEA play the main role in handling Iran. They fear that such demands by the council would mean that the council - which has the power to impose sanctions - would be taking the lead.
"We need to send a message ... that the Security Council is supporting and reinforcing the role of the IAEA, not to replace or take it over from the IAEA," China's UN Ambassador Wang Guangya said.
But the draft circulated Friday afternoon still includes the demand for a report in 14 days, as well as details of the IAEA demands. Wang said China would prefer a deadline of four to six weeks.
The discussions came a day after Tehran offered to enter into talks with the US aimed at stabilizing Iraq. The Bush administration said it would discuss the insurgency with the Islamic republic, but both sides said the talks would not address the standoff over Iran's nuclear activities.