All sides have prepared carefully for the meeting in Vienna, including the one player in the crisis who will not be present -- Iran.
Ready For More Talks?
Tehran has sought to reduce tensions ahead of the session by announcing this week it is ready to resume talks on its nuclear program with Britain, France, and Germany, the so-called EU-3.
The EU troika is offering Tehran technical, trade, and security incentives to give up activities that could contribute to developing nuclear weapons.
Iran’s announcement that it wants to resume talking has been welcomed by Washington, which backs the EU-3 process, although it is not participating directly.
U.S. Seeks Resolution Regardless
However, the United States does not want to see any talks become a reason to put off a tough UN resolution on Iran.
"I'd say we're glad they're going back to the EU-3 talks and we hope that they produce productive results," said White House spokesman Tony Snow on May 30. "We've always been clear on the end state, which is that we want Iran to suspend all enrichment and reprocessing activities, and we wish them success."
The EU package -- which will almost certainly be discussed in Vienna -- represents a possible compromise that could assure the crisis is solved diplomatically.
Permanent UN Security Council members Russia and China have insisted that the standoff be resolved through negotiations.
But the Europeans also stress that Iranian rejection of the compromise would be a sign Tehran is seeking nuclear weapons and may have to be dealt with more firmly.
“If they reject [the incentives package], it probably will be once again a clear sign that what they are looking for is not only the production of energy, but [that] they are looking for a level of enrichment that goes way beyond what is necessary [for] the production of energy, entering into what we may call nuclear weapon type of enrichment," said European Union foreign-policy chief Javier Solana on May 30.
How Tough Should A Resolution Be?
At the meeting in Vienna, Washington will again try to rally the other powers around language demanding Tehran comply with the UN Security Council’s March 29 nonbinding resolution. The March resolution demanded Iran suspend enrichment-related activities.
But diplomats say Washington -- which wants to invoke a chapter of the UN charter that makes Security Council resolutions mandatory under international law -- is ready to offer some last-minute concessions to Russia and China.
The U.S. daily "The New York Times" reports today that “to placate the Russians, the United States has agreed to involve only Article 41 of Chapter 7.”
That approach would assure there is no mention of the possible use of force in making the resolution mandatory. Moscow is reportedly worried that any mention of force could open the way for Washington to move militarily against Iran.
"The New York Times" also reports today that “the American goal is get an agreement on a Security Council resolution this week, for possible approval in June.”
Amid the efforts to get a binding resolution, there are still no signs that Tehran will comply with the Security Council’s demands.
Tehran insists that all its nuclear activities are within the scope of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and that it will not give up its right to produce nuclear fuel through uranium enrichment.
The process of uranium enrichment, at high levels, can also produce nuclear-weapons materials.
"We want this issue to be resolved through the [International Atomic Energy Agency,] IAEA," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said on May 30 in Tehran. "We will not abandon our rights. But we are ready to reach a result through negotiations."
A woman demonstrates in support of the Iranian government outside a nuclear facility in Isfahan (epa file photo)
Recent days also have seen Iran trying to give the impression that it now has already mastered uranium enrichment and that any measures to make it suspend its programs are now pointless.
"Our nation has conquered the highest peaks of science through its persistence and its efforts," Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad said in a May 24 speech in Khorramshahr. "And today, I proudly announce that Iran possesses, from [start to finish], the nuclear-fuel cycle for peaceful use."
International arms inspectors have yet to verify just what level of success Tehran has achieved.
Washington Pushes For Sanctions
Meanwhile, Washington remains determined to see Iran put an end to all dual-use nuclear activities.
Washington is said to be planning to ask European states and Japan to take independent punitive measures against Iran if Tehran ignores the Security Council’s anticipated new resolution.
The U.S. daily "The Washington Post" reported on May 29 that the plan “would restrict the Tehran government’s access to foreign currency and global markets, shut its overseas bank accounts, and freeze assets held in Europe and Asia.”
But there are no indications yet whether the EU and Japan – both of which have growing trade ties with Iran – would be prepared to take such tough measures outside a UN framework.
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.