PRAGUE, March 11, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- Ambassadors from the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China -- the five permanent members of the most important body of the United Nations, the Security Council -- met for the second time on March 10 at the United Nations in New York to work on the wording of a statement on Iran's nuclear program.
Despite a media blackout, details of the talks emerged, with leaked drafts indicating that the wording will stress that the 15-nation United Nations Security Council hopes for a diplomatic solution and will make no mention of sanctions.
The draft, the "New York Times" reported on March 9, says the council continues to hope for a negotiated solution "that guarantees Iran's nuclear program is for exclusively peaceful purposes." It reportedly makes no mention of further steps should Iran fail to satisfy the demands for full transparency made by the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
"The New York Times" quotes the draft as calling for the IAEA to report again to the council "within a short time frame" on whether Iran is cooperating.
The draft warns that "continued enrichment-related activity would add to the importance and urgency of further action by the council."
The preference for further talks and the silence about sanctions is consistent with signals from Washington and from European capitals, and takes into account Russia's and China's positions over the Iran nuclear crisis.
China has urged caution and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov reiterated Moscow's long-held view on March 8 when he said that Moscow is "convinced that there is no military solution to this crisis."
Lavrov was also scathing about the value of using sanctions to force Iran to cooperate more fully, saying "I don't think sanctions, as a means to solve a crisis, have ever achieved a goal in recent history."
The indications from Western powers is that they too feel it is too early to raise the possibility of isolating Iran.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said on March 10 that "our goal is political, not punitive."
Britain wants to begin with an initial Security Council response that backs the IAEA without threatening Iran with sanctions.
And U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said on March 9 that the United States is "not going to be seeking sanctions as a first step."
But Washington has said that it reserves the right to seek more forceful steps -- including sanctions -- if Tehran does not cooperate.
Placing The Onus On Iran
So far, then, the indications are that, when it reviews the dossier on Iran's nuclear program, the Security Council will urge the continuation of negotiations as a means of ending the standoff.
UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan has also urged for a continuation of diplomacy, saying on March 10 that "the best solution is a negotiated one."
However, Annan was at pains to say that Iran should any warning from the Security Council seriously.
"The message goes out that the whole international community is concerned about this dossier and would want to see full Iranian compliance with its NPT [Nonproliferation Treaty] and atomic agency requirements," he said.
He expressed the hope that "Iran will take the necessary steps to cooperate with the atomic agency. That will give confidence to the international community that indeed its ambition is the peaceful use of nuclear energy."
So far, all efforts to solve the crisis have foundered on Iran's insistence that it has the right to enrich uranium in Iran, a process that can be used to produce nuclear fuel but which can also, at high levels of enrichment, create material for nuclear weapons.
Moscow has sought to convince Iran to do all or most of its uranium enrichment on Russian soil, where it could be monitored.
Iran, though, has said that Moscow's proposal is currently off the agenda. It had made clear that, whether or not it enriches uranium in Russia, it would not give up its right to a domestic program.
But the Western powers have rejected any compromise that allows Iran to do any uranium enrichment at home.
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said on March 9 that the West would suffer more than Iran if it continued to try to stop Tehran from developing nuclear technology.
The U.S. ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, repeated on March 10 that it was up to Iran to resolve the standoff. "The way to resolve the Iranian crisis is for Iran to stop its search for nuclear weapons. That’s very simple and very straightforward," he said. "All they [Iran] have to do is read the resolutions of the IAEA, the text of the Nonproliferation Treaty and the text of their Safeguards Agreement with the IAEA [designed to ensure that nuclear programs remain peaceful] and comply with those documents."
Bolton said that diplomats will continue to meet before the Security Council discusses Iran's nuclear program, saying that "continuing consultations among interested countries make a lot of sense."
Economic sanctions could further undermine Iran's already shaky economy (Fars)
MOVING TOWARD SANCTIONS: If the United Nations Security Council imposes sanctions on Iran, domestic support for Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad will wane, according to ALEX VATANKA, Eurasia editor for Jane's Information Group.
Vatanka told a February 24 RFE/RL briefing that "economic sanctions will hurt the average Iranian" and, consequently, many "will blame the ruling clerics" for making life difficult and "impairing the country's long term development."
Vatanka said sanctions would be a serious challenge to the Iranian government. If harsh economic sanctions were imposed, Iran's poorest population will be hurt the hardest -- and might react "as they did in the 1970s and protest in the streets." Sanctions on travel, Vatanka said, would hurt a many Iranians because "Iran is a nation of small traders" who depend on the ability to travel to earn an income. According to Vatanka, unemployment in Iran is estimated at 30 percent, "so small trading is essential to survival." Although current U.S. sanctions "haven't worked," he said, "Iranians fear an oil embargo." He stressed that "oil revenues are a major part of the economy, so it is critical to look at this sector."
Should negotiations with the European Union and the UN fail, Vatanka believes that Iran would follow a "North Korea model," since Ahmadinejad's base of support among the "Islamist militias" has been "urging withdrawal from the NPT [Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty]." The Iranian government's "tactic" so far, Vatanka said, is governed by the belief that "by shouting the loudest, you'll get concessions [from the West]."
Listen to the complete panel discussion (about 60 minutes):
THE COMPLETE STORY: RFE/RL's coverage of the controversy surrounding Iran's nuclear program.
CHRONOLOGY An annotated timeline of Iran's nuclear program.