(photo credit: AP [file])
Six key nations agreed Friday to delay a new UN resolution that would toughen sanctions against Iran until November to see if Teheran answers questions about its suspect nuclear program.
A joint statement from the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany said they would finalize the new resolution and bring it to a vote unless reports in November from the chief UN nuclear official and the European Union's foreign policy chief "show a positive outcome of their efforts."
The United States, Britain and France had been pushing for new sanctions now to pressure Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, but RUSsia and China wanted to give Teheran additional time to comply with UN nuclear inspectors.
Asked whether the agreement was tantamount to a surrender by the United States, Nicholas Burns, the US State Department's No. 3 diplomat, said "the alchemy of this group is such that anything is going to be a compromise."
The statement, he said, sent "a very tough and strict message to Iran."
France's Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who has warned that Iran must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons, called Friday's ministerial meeting "a success."
UN nuclear chief Mohamed ElBaradei and Iranian officials agreed in July that Teheran would answer questions from International Atomic Energy Agency experts by December on more than two decades of nuclear activity - most of it secret until revealed more than four years ago. IAEA technical officials returned to Teheran this week to start probing outstanding questions, some with possible weapons applications.
In the statement, the six countries welcomed the IAEA agreement with Iran.
"We call upon Iran, however, to produce tangible results rapidly and effectively by clarifying all outstanding issues and concerns on Iran's nuclear program including topics which could have the military nuclear dimension," the statement said.
"Full transparency and cooperation by Iran with the IAEA is essential in order to address outstanding concerns," it said.
Two UN resolutions imposing sanctions on Iran have failed to persuade it to suspend uranium enrichment. Teheran insists its program is aimed at producing energy for civilian use but the US, its European allies and many others fear the program's real goal is nuclear weapons.
In a Tuesday address at the UN General Assembly, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said the nuclear issue is "closed" and vowed to defy any UN Security Council move for more sanctions.
The six nations reiterated their June 2006 offer of a package of economic and political rewards to Iran and a suspension of the implementation of sanctions, but only if Teheran suspends enrichment before the start of such negotiations - meant to achieve a long-term moratorium on enrichment.
In the joint statement, the six powers urged Iran "to engage in a dialogue to create the conditions for negotiations."
They asked EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who attended Friday's ministerial session, to meet with Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, "to lay the foundation for future negotiations."
"The proliferation risks of the Iranian nuclear program remain a source of serious concern to the international community," the statement said. "We seek a negotiated solution that would address the international community's concerns over Iran's nuclear program. We reiterate our commitment to see the proliferation implication of Iran's nuclear program resolved."
Since Iran has not suspended its enrichment and reprocessing activities as required under the two previous Security Council resolutions, the six nations said "we agree to finalize a text for a third UN Security Council sanctions resolution ... with the intention of bringing it to a vote in the UN Security Council unless the November reports of Dr. Solana and Dr. ElBaradei show a positive outcome of their efforts."
Burns, the US State Department official, said political directors from the six countries will meet once or twice in October to finish drafting the new resolution.
He said there were detailed discussions Friday on what should be in it, but not every point was agreed.
No specific date was set for submitting the new sanctions resolution to a vote in the Security Council because the six nations want to give Solana and ElBaradei some flexibility in producing their reports, Burns said.
The ministers wanted to "threaten to vote the resolution, but not foreclose the diplomatic opportunity that may be ahead," he said.