WASHINGTON/NEW YORK -- On the eve of a UN vote on a new round of sanctions against Iran, the United States says the door is still open for Tehran to choose diplomacy and avoid potentially crippling economic sanctions.
At a briefing for reporters on June 8, State Department spokesman Phillip Crowley said the United States will vote "yes" for a sanctions resolution because Washington "[does] not see that Iran is going to change course based on words alone" and wants to send "a strong, compelling, international, direct message to Iran that it has to change course."
But with just hours left before the matter comes to the vote in the UN Security Council, Crowley said the clock has not yet run out on what is now a more than year-old offer for Iran to work out a negotiated settlement that will erase international suspicion over the true aims of its nuclear program.
"Is the diplomatic track still available? Of course. But at the same time, we are going to apply greater pressure on Iran to make clear that its failure to meet its obligations does have consequences,” Crowley said.
He added, "Tomorrow Iran will understand that there are consequences for its failure to come forward."
China, Russia On Board
Crowley spoke as the Security Council met in closed session to discuss a draft of a sanctions package that Russian President Vladimir Putin characterized as "practically agreed."
Along with China, Russia is one of the Council's permanent members that the United States has lobbied particularly hard over the past several months in its drive to put teeth in the threat of sanctions if Iran continued to flout its international obligations under the Nonproliferation Treaty.
Both countries have traditionally opposed tough sanctions on Iran and had a hand in successfully weakening three previous rounds of penalties. This time, both Beijing and Moscow are expected to join the 'yes' votes on the Council.
That's at least in part because the current draft is somewhat weaker than a version circulated by Washington last month. The four Western powers on the Council -- Germany, France, Britain and the United States -- had pushed for tougher measures but Russia and China worked hard to dilute certain penalties.
European and U.S. officials have said they expect the sanctions to pass 12 to 3, with Turkey, Brazil and Lebanon leaning toward a 'no' vote.
Potential 'No' Votes
After the three-hour morning meeting, Mexican ambassador and Council President Claude Heller announced that a vote on the draft-resolution to impose new economic sanctions would take place the morning of June 9.
U.S. envoy Susan Rice described the sanctions draft as "very strong."
“There are binding bans on Iranian investment in uranium facilities and activities abroad. There are binding arms restrictions. There are binding bans on launches of ballistic missiles that could carry nuclear weapons. There are a series of steps which together result in a binding inspections regime,” she said.
Today's huddle at the UN was seen as an attempt by the council's five permanent members -- Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States -- to accommodate the views of Brazil and Turkey.
The two nonpermanent members forged a separate nuclear fuel swap deal with Iran that was rejected by the West as too little, too late. Privately, diplomats said a major effort was being made by Britain, France and the United States to convince Brazil and Turkey to abstain from a vote instead of opposing the sanctions.
Both countries' ambassadors said today that their position is not yet final.
Even with two "no" votes, the sanctions would still pass. However, it's thought that open opposition to sanctions by two or more council members would strengthen Tehran's hand in its continued defiance of its international agreements.
The United States has long made clear that its strong preference is to send a unanimous message to Iran's leaders.
Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad has warned that Iran will cut off any talks about its nuclear program if the United Nations adopts new sanctions against it.
'Clock Is Ticking'
Speaking in London where he was meeting with his British counterpart, Liam Fox, on Afghanistan, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said it's not too late to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. But "the clock is ticking," he added.
Gates said international cooperation on sanctions could provide a legal platform for individual nations "to take additional actions that go well beyond the resolution itself."
"The key here is a combination of diplomacy and pressure to persuade the Iranians that they are headed in the wrong direction in terms of their own security, that they will undermine their security by pursuit of nuclear weapons, not enhance it," Gates said.
At the State Department, Crowley rejected suggestions that the United States was rushing the vote on sanctions.
"This is Iran's choice. This is not about the United States singling out Iran,” he said. “This is about Iran -- as a signatory to the Nonproliferation Treaty -- that has a nuclear program and has failed over a number of years to satisfy the international community that that program is civilian and peaceful in nature. Iran wants to portray itself as the victim here. Iran is not the victim. "
Heather Maher reported from Washington and Nikola Krastev reported from the United Nations