(photo credit: AP [file])
American, European and Chinese officials gather in London on Monday for what is likely to be a tense meeting on whether to bring Iran before the UN Security Council over its nuclear program.
Britain, France and Germany declared last week that talks with Iran over the program had reached a "dead end" and said it was time to refer the matter to the Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions. The United States backs that position.
But representatives from Russia and China are also attending the London meeting, and their governments have been warier of a referral.
China, which is highly dependent on Iran for oil, has warned that such a move would escalate the confrontation. Support from Russia, deeply involved in building Iranian nuclear power reactors, is also uncertain.
It is unclear whether China or Russia might use their veto powers to thwart Security Council action, or whether there are enough votes at the council for it to impose sanctions.
The talks, which follow a summit of the British, French and German foreign ministers in Berlin last week, are aimed at building consensus ahead of an emergency board meeting of the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, expected in early February.
Iran last week removed UN seals from its main uranium enrichment facility in Natanz and resumed research on nuclear fuel, including small-scale enrichment, after a 2 -year freeze.
It says its intentions are peaceful and it only wants to produce nuclear energy.
But Western nations suspect Tehran's real goal is building the technology and infrastructure to make nuclear weapons. They said Iran's move signaled the end of two years of tense negotiations between Iran and the European trio of Britain, France and Germany.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran, an Iranian opposition group, planned a rally outside Britain's Foreign Office Monday urging the government to refer Tehran to the Security Council.
Despite the increase in tensions, the European Union's foreign policy chief said Sunday that the international community was not considering an attack against Iran.
"It's not in the mind of anyone at this point in time, the use of military action, no," Javier Solana said in an interview with British ITV television. "I hope very much that ... we will find a peaceful solution, a diplomatic solution."
He said he hoped united international pressure would force Tehran back into negotiations.
Solana said he hoped Tehran would not end cooperation with the IAEA, as it has threatened to do if referred to the Security Council, saying that would be a "tremendous breach of confidence and trust."
With the backing of Russia and China uncertain, European diplomats have been unwilling to talk publicly about what sanctions could be imposed on Tehran. Economic sanctions targeting oil and gas exports are thought unlikely. Iran is OPEC's second-largest producer and preventing it from doing business could disrupt the world's energy markets.
Iran's hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has alarmed many in recent months by asserting that Israel should be "wiped off the map" and calling the Holocaust a myth.
On Sunday, Iran said it would sponsor a conference to examine the scientific evidence supporting the Holocaust, a move likely to deepen its international isolation.
"I think one thing about the new president is he's managed, in a sense, to epitomize the most extreme form of threat and maximize the degree of unity in the international community," Britain's Defense Secretary John Reid told ITV.