(photo credit: AP)
The UN Security Council demanded that Iran suspend uranium enrichment, the first time the powerful body has directly urged Teheran to clear up suspicions that it is seeking nuclear weapons.
Diplomats portrayed the statement, which is not legally binding, as a first, modest, step toward compelling Iran to make clear that its program is peaceful. The Security Council could eventually impose economic sanctions, though Russia and China say they oppose such tough measures.
Iran remained defiant, maintaining its right to nuclear power but insisting that it was committed to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and had no intention of seeking weapons of mass destruction.
"Pressure and threats do not work with Iran. Iran is a country that is allergic to pressure and to threats and intimidation," Iranian Ambassador Javad Zarif said. He later added that "Iran insists on its right to have access to nuclear technology for explicitly peaceful purposes. We will not abandon that claim to our legitimate right."
The 15-nation council unanimously approved a statement that will ask the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to report back in 30 days on Iran's compliance with the demands, made many times before by the IAEA, to stop enriching uranium.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called the statement an "important diplomatic step" that showed the international community's concern about Iran.
"Iran is more isolated now than ever," Rice said in a statement. "The Security Council's Presidential Statement sends an unmistakable message to Iran that its efforts to conceal its nuclear program and evade its international obligations are unacceptable."
The document was adopted by consensus and without a vote after a flurry of negotiations among the five veto-wielding council members. In the end, Britain, France and the United States made several concessions to China and Russia, Iran's allies, who wanted as mild a statement as possible.
Still, the Western countries said the statement expresses the international community's shared conviction that Iran must comply with the governing board of the IAEA and the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Enrichment is a process that can produce either fuel for a nuclear reactor or the material for a nuclear warhead.
"The council is expressing its clear concern and is saying to Iran that it should comply with the wishes of the governing board," France's UN Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said.
Members of the council wanted to reach a deal before Thursday, when foreign ministers from the five veto-wielding council members and Germany meet in Berlin to discuss strategy on Iran.
Diplomats would not say exactly what will happen if Iran does not comply with the statement within 30 days, but suggested that would be discussed by the foreign ministers in Berlin.
The council has negotiated for three weeks to come up with the statement. The IAEA's 35-nation board of governors had referred Tehran to the council in January after Iran ended its freeze on enrichment-related activities and talks with Britain, France and Germany collapsed.
The West has proposed an incremental approach but refuses to rule out sanctions down the road. US officials have said the threat of military action must also remain on the table.
Russia and China, both allies of Iran, oppose sanctions. They wanted any council statement to make explicit that the IAEA, not the Security Council, must take the lead in confronting Iran.
The statement approved by the council was sponsored by Britain, France and Germany, the three European nations that had led talks with Iran.
The text called upon Iran to "resolve outstanding questions, and underlines ... the particular importance of re-establishing full and sustained suspension of all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities."
Still, it removed language that China and Russia opposed, and was significantly weaker than texts passed around in recent weeks.
The final text deleted language saying that proliferation is a threat to international peace and security. Also gone is a mention that the council is specifically charged under the UN charter with addressing such threats.
Russia and China had opposed that language from the start because they wanted nothing in the statement that could automatically trigger council action after 30 days.
"For the time being we have suspicions," Russia's UN Ambassador Andrey Denisov said. "So from that point of view, it is like a ladder. If you want to climb up, you must step on the first step, and then the second, and not try to leap."