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 UN resolution to curb Iran's nuclear program, a European official said.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stressed, however, that the decision 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."
At a meeting Tuesday, representatives of the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France as well as Germany agreed to tell Iran the possible consequences of its refusal to halt its enrichment program and the benefits if it abandons it.
Representatives from the three European countries that had been spearheading negotiations with Iran will now spend the next few days preparing a package of incentives and sanctions, the European official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because there has been no official announcement.
The 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 let the Iranians know how they can fulfill their aspirations for a civilian 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 it must halt uranium enrichment and comply with demands by the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN 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 the British, French and US efforts to put the resolution under Chapter 7 of the UN 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.
"We don't believe that this is necessary to discuss at this stage," Russia's Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said when asked about Chapter 7.
Germany's Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said late Monday that the Europeans planned 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, and Steinmeier said the Europeans will have to talk about details of a possible new package.
The European official said the package is likely to include issues related to energy security and civilian nuclear power.
Russia's Lavrov said he preferred to look at "reasonable proposals which would show positive alternatives" for Iran.
The deeply divided Security Council has been wrestling with the draft resolution on Iran's nuclear program, which the United States and its European allies fear is intended to make weapons and Iran maintains is solely for peaceful purposes.
US 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 and adoption would probably need "another 10 days, 14 days."
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" that would guarantee nonproliferation and guarantee "responsible members" of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty "the right to peaceful use of nuclear energy."
The United States has invited direct talks with Iran only on the security situation in Iraq.