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Key European nations put finishing touches Tuesday on a proposal meant to enlist the support of Russia and China for possible UN Security Council sanctions against Iran should Teheran refuse to abandon uranium enrichment, diplomats said.
The compromise - which would drop the automatic threat of UN-sanction military action if Iran remains defiant - is part of a proposed basket of incentives meant to entice Iran to give up enrichment, a possible pathway to nuclear arms, or penalties if it does not. France, Britain and Germany discussed the final form of the package Tuesday ahead of submission for hoped-for approval Wednesday at a formal meeting of the five permanent Security Council members and Germany.
If accepted, the compromise would resolve wrangling within the Security Council that dominated much of what to do about Iran since the council became actively involved in March, two months after Iran's file was referred to it by the 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
Russia and China have opposed calls by America, Britain and France for a resolution packing the threat of sanctions and enforceable by the threat of military force.
The compromise proposal is meant to break that deadlock, said the diplomats, who demanded anonymity in exchange for discussing the confidential elements of the Iran package with The Associated Press.
If Iran remains defiant, it calls for a Security Council resolution imposing sanctions "under Chapter VII, Article 41 of the UN Charter." But it avoids any reference to Article 42 - which is the trigger for possible military backup to enforce any such resolution.
And in an additional reassurance to Moscow and Beijing, it specifically calls for new consultations among the five permanent members on any further steps against Iran. That is meant to dispel past complaints by the Russians and Chinese that once the screws on Iran are tightened it would be the automatic start of a process leading to military involvement.
The proposed language represents compromise by the United States, Britain and France, which for weeks had called for a full Chapter VII resolution automatically carrying the threat of military action if ignored by Iran.
Still it was unclear whether the changes would be enough to satisfy Russia and China at the six-nation meeting Wednesday because any such resolution would still declare Iran a threat to international peace - something also opposed by both Moscow and Beijing. Russia and China also have until recently spoken out against possible sanctions on Teheran, their economic and strategic partner.
On the eve of the full six-nation meeting, Russian news agencies cited Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov as again calling for political and diplomatic means to solve the Iranian nuclear impasse.
Still, Lavrov said Moscow favors the approach of the three European Union countries in handling the crisis around Iran's suspected nuclear weapons program - a possible suggestion that it was ready to accept the modified proposal for a council resolution as part of the package of carrots if Iran cooperated - and sticks if it didn't.
Among possible sanctions to be imposed by the council, as listed by a draft European proposal shared in part with The Associated Press, were banning travel visas for government officials; freezing assets; banning financial transactions of key government figures and those involved in Iran's nuclear program; an arms embargo, and other measures including an embargo on shipping refined oil products to Iran. While Iran is a major exporter of crude it has a shortage of gasoline and other oil derivatives.
Rewards offered if Teheran agrees to suspending enrichment, new negotiations on its nuclear program and lifts a ban on intrusive inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency, included agreement by the international community to "suspend discussion of Iran's file at the Security Council."
The package also promised help in "the building of new light-water reactors in Iran," offered an assured supply of nuclear fuel for up to five years, and asked Teheran to accept a plan that would move its enrichment program to Russia.
While the Europeans sought to get the Russians and Chinese on board, Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, planned to urge the Americans to show compromise in meetings scheduled for Tuesday with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley and other top US officials.
Still, a European official said that Washington was unlikely to go beyond giving up insistence that any council resolution be automatically militarily enforceable.
"One can play with the terminology, but the Security Council action has to be strong, or we won't have a package that can be supported by the Americans," said the official.
Concern has been building since 2002, when Iran was found to be working on large-scale plans to enrich uranium. Iran insists it is only interested in generating electricity, but the international community increasingly fears it plans to build a nuclear bomb.
A series of IAEA reports since then have revealed worrying secret activities and documents, including drawings of how to mold weapons-grade uranium metal into the shape of a warhead.
Iran heightened international worries by announcing on April 11 that it had enriched uranium with 164 centrifuges. Experts estimate that Iran could produce enough nuclear material for one bomb if it had at least 1,000 centrifuges working for over a year.
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