The United States indicated it wants tougher sanctions on Iran for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment than the measures in a U.N. resolution drafted by Britain, France and Germany.
European diplomats said the proposed sanctions - banning the sale of missile and nuclear technology to Iran and ending most U.N. help for its nuclear programs - are narrowly focused in hopes of winning Russian and Chinese backing.
Russia and China have major commercial ties with Iran and are veto-wielding members of the Security Council along with the U.S, Britain and France.
France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere told reporters late Wednesday the draft resolution "is firm and focused on the sensitive nuclear activities" being carried out in Iran.
He predicted that the U.N. Security Council will adopt a sanctions resolution "the sooner the better."
The three European countries gave the draft to the Americans, Russians and Chinese on Tuesday and ambassadors from the six nations will meet Thursday to start negotiations, de La Sabliere said.
The draft resolution orders all countries to prevent the sale and supply of material and technology that could contribute to Iran's nuclear and missile programs, he said. It imposes a travel ban and freezes the assets of people involved in these programs _ and also orders countries to freeze the assets of companies and organizations involved in Iran's nuclear and missile programs.
"This is a first response," de La Sabliere said. "This text on Iran was necessary ... (because) it was clear the Iranians were not ready or not willing to resume their suspension of enrichment related activities."
"We have always said that should Iran change its position and resume the suspension of these enrichment activities, then the council will lift the sanctions. So it's reversible," he said.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday the Europeans, who have been the main negotiators with Iran, were left with "no choice" but to pursue sanctions after Tehran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment.
"There must be no Iranian nuclear program," Merkel said during a speech in Berlin.
The United States, which has consistently pushed for tough sanctions to punish Iran for defying a Security Council resolution to suspend enrichment by Aug. 31, indicated the European proposals were too weak.
"We look forward to a full meeting of the five permanent members where we will obviously have American changes to the proposed European text," said Richard Grenell, spokesman for the U.S. Mission to the United Nations. He refused to comment on any U.S. proposals.
Both Russia and China have agreed in principle to imposing sanctions over Iran's defiance of the council ultimatum to freeze uranium enrichment and sharply improve cooperation with the U.N. probe of suspect Iranian atomic activities.
But both continue to publicly push for dialogue instead of U.N. punishment, despite the collapse last month of a European Union attempt to entice Iran into talks. The EU had proposed that Iran at least temporarily freeze enrichment as a condition for multilateral talks aimed at erasing suspicions it may be trying to build nuclear arms in violation of its treaty commitments.
Foreign ministers from the six countries agreed at a meeting in London earlier this month that they would seek measures under Article 41 of Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter _ and de La Sabliere confirmed that this was how the resolution was drafted.
Article 41 authorizes the Security Council to impose nonmilitary sanctions such as completely or partially severing diplomatic and economic relations, transportation and communications links.
Iran has shrugged off the threat of sanctions. While Security Council members focus on sanctions, Iran has expanded its controversial nuclear work by starting a second cascade of centrifuges to enrich uranium, a semi-official news agency reported Wednesday.
European diplomats, who spoke with The Associated Press Tuesday on condition of anonymity because the draft resolution is not yet public, said the draft resolution would also cancel technical assistance to Iran from the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency.
IAEA technical programs, which are freely available to all member countries, are restricted to medical or agricultural help, nuclear safety expertise and other peaceful applications that cannot be diverted for weapons purposes.
In an attempt to win Russia's support, de La Sabliere said the draft resolution exempts the initial nuclear facility being built by the Russians at Bushehr _ despite U.S. demands that the controversial project be halted entirely under the sanctions.
The Bushehr facility would be Iran's first atomic power plant and the Tehran government recently allocated about US$245 million(â‚¬195 million) to finish it. The facility is now projected to go on line in late 2007, nearly a year later than originally envisaged.