(photo credit: AP)
A senior US diplomat said Wednesday that most permanent members of the UN Security Council and Group of Eight members support possible sanctions against Iran in the dispute over its nuclear program.
"Nearly every country is considering some sort of sanctions and that's new," US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told reporters after two days of meetings in Moscow among world powers on the standoff with Iran.
Envoys from the so-called EU-3 - Britain, France and Germany - held at least two hours of talks in Moscow Wednesday evening with Javad Vaidi, deputy secretary of Iran's National Security Council, along with Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi, but there was little progress, the British Foreign Office said.
"We detected nothing new in the Iranian position," the Foreign Office said.
Iran's official Islamic Republic News Agency earlier reported that the country's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, had also flown to Russia, but later issued a correction.
Burns stressed that all participants in the talks among Group of Eight members and the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany were intent on preventing Iran from achieving nuclear weapons capability, but said there continued to be differences over what action would be needed to do that. He declined to specify which countries did not support possible sanctions.
Russia and China, both of which are permanent Security Council members, are seen as the most resistant to sanctions.
"What is new is a greater sense of urgency given what the Iranians did last week," Burns said, referring to Iran's announcement that it had succeeded in enriching uranium for the first time. Being able to enrich uranium is a significant step toward being able to produce nuclear weapons, though Iran says it will use the process only to fuel nuclear power stations.
Iran has consistently resisted calls for it to abandon its enrichment program. Russia has proposed conducting uranium enrichment for Iran's nuclear facilities in Russia, a way of guaranteeing the uranium would not be enriched to the high level needed for nuclear weapons and that Iranians would not have access to the technology. However, Iran has not accepted that proposal.
Amid the increasingly tense standoff, Russia and the West have been seeking new ways of pressuring Iran.
Burns, echoing a statement Tuesday by US President George W. Bush, did not reject the possibility of a military response.
"Obviously, the United States always keeps all options on the table... but we're focused on diplomacy," he said.
Burns said he told other participants in the meetings that individual countries should exercise their own leverage over Iran. He said countries should stop any nuclear cooperation with Iran and end arms exports, in particular, not allowing Russia's December deal to sell Tor-1 missiles to Iran to go forward.
He said that in addition to the nuclear crisis, a number of participants in the Moscow meetings had spoken of Iran's support for terrorism.
"Iran is the central banker of Middle East terrorism and Iran is the leading supporter and director of the activities of Hezbollah and the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and a number of countries said our agenda with Iran can't just be solely focused on the nuclear issue," Burns said.
Earlier Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Tehran must heed calls "to suspend work linked to uranium enrichment" but that world capitals are waiting for an April 28 report from International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei on Iran's nuclear program before deciding how to proceed.
He said Russia wants the report to be reviewed by the IAEA board before it goes to the Security Council.
Russia, not eager for a discussion of sanctions in the Security Council, has repeatedly stressed that the Vienna, Austria-based IAEA is the best forum for discussions on the Iranian program.
The United States and Britain say that if Iran does not comply with the Security Council's April 28 deadline for Tehran to stop enrichment, they will seek a resolution that would make the demand compulsory. Burns said that the political directors of the Group of Eight, which includes the United States and Russia, would meet in early May to continue talks on the next steps.
Lavrov's comments Wednesday were blunter than previous ones and appeared to reflect increasing Russian frustration with Iranian intransigence.
However, a European official familiar with the Iran issue said in Vienna that initial read-outs of the Moscow meeting showed Russia and China still opposed to US-led attempts to start work on a Security Council resolution that would obligate Iran to freeze uranium enrichment and meet other international demands, or face the possibility of military action. The official demanded anonymity in exchange for discussing details of the Moscow meeting.