UNITED NATIONS -- France has asked its fellow members on the United Nations Security Council to start work on a new round of sanctions against Iran for its refusal to verify the peaceful character of its nuclear program.
France's desire is supported by Britain and the United States, two other permanent members of the council. But China and Russia, both of which also wield veto power, insist there is still time for diplomacy.
On December 10, France's permanent representative to the UN, Gerard Araud, told reporters that the time for negotiating is over.
"We want to solve this issue but again, we are following a dual track policy, on the one side asking for negotiations, on the other side increasing the pressure on Iran and we consider that the time has come to increase this pressure," Araud said.
Asked by reporters after the council's meeting whether the time for sanctions has come, the U.S. permanent representative to the UN, Susan Rice, said Iran still has a choice.
"Those under sanctions and pressure have the potential of an off-ramp but they have to take it and the choice is now Iran's. Time is short and we've not yet seen the kind of response from Iran that we think would be in their interest and the interest of international peace and security," Rice said.
"And absent that, in the very short term we will be back here [UN Security Council], as I suggested in my remarks, to talk about further actions that may be necessary."
Rice confirmed U.S. President Barack Obama's previously stated deadline of "the end of the year" for Iran to comply with the demands for disclosure and clarity on its nuclear program.
In the apparent absence of such compliance, and in the face of Iran's confrontational stand with the UN and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), it's likely that the Security Council may start work on a new set of sanctions in early 2010.
Key China, Russia Support
But sanctions need the approval of China and Russia. Neither Beijing nor Moscow at present is willing to take that step against its important trading partner.
China's permanent representative to the UN Zhang Yesui said that there is still time for diplomatic efforts.
Vitaly Churkin, Russia's permanent representative to the UN, urged its members to exercise restraint and calmness.
"At present the circumstances surrounding the Iranian nuclear program remain complex. Regrettably, it is not possible again to start substantial negotiations with the Iranian side," Churkin said.
"Nevertheless, the P5+1 including Russia is not giving up its determination to restart the dialogue with Iran, a dialogue directed toward the complex solution of all issues related to the nuclear program of this country."
On November 27, the IAEA censured Iran for concealing an enrichment plant, with all five permanent Security Council members in favor.
Meanwhile, the European Union declared on December 9 that it would set a seven-week deadline for Iran to return to the negotiating table or face a new round of sanctions.
Unless Iran bows to demands for verifiable assurances that it is not trying to build atomic weapons, EU foreign ministers say they will debate a push for stiffer penalties at their January 25-26 meeting in Brussels.