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UN Council members still divided over Iran crisis

Written by: Staff

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 14 (Reuters) The United States, Britain and France moved a dispute over Iran's nuclear ambitions to the full U.N. Security Council after failing today to win Russia and China's support for a proposal to pressure Tehran.

At issue is a British-French draft of a council statement that would call on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment efforts, which the West believes are a cover for bomb making, and ask the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for a quick progress report.

France and Britain called the council's 10 non-permanent members to be briefed on their proposal at a meeting later today.

The five permanent members had met for a fourth time today morning in search of a deal but broke off after failing to reach an agreement in an hour and a half of talks.

U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said the five would meet again tomorrow. ''We're going to keep talking about this. We think it is important to keep 'perm five' unity,'' Bolton told reporters. ''We are united in our determination to ensure that Iran does not achieve a nuclear weapons capability.'' Russia and China have been uneasy about involving the Security Council, which has the authority to impose sanctions, and want the IAEA to retain control.

The United States wants Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the IAEA, to report to the council within 14 days on Iran's compliance. Russia and China prefer a six-week deadline and want the report to go to the IAEA rather than to the Security Council, the envoys said.

China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya said after today's meeting that differences still persisted.

He said Beijing wanted a short statement that left room for further diplomacy with Iran and made it clear that the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency in Vienna -- and not the Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions -- remained in charge of the issue.

If the split continues, the Western powers may decide to drop the idea of a Security Council statement, which requires the consent of all 15 members. Instead they are considering putting a resolution to a vote and forcing Russia and China to abstain or veto, thereby breaking any semblance of unity.

Iran, which denies it is trying to make a nuclear weapon, had rejected an offer from Russia to enrich Iranian uranium on Russian soil. But it then wanted to reopen the talks, which Moscow's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said would happen soon.

But Lavrov expressed impatience with mixed messages from Iran, saying he was ''extremely disappointed with the way Iran in the course of these talks.'' ''Iran is absolutely no help to those who want to find peaceful ways to solve this problem,'' he said yesterday.

ElBaradei's report to the council a week ago said Iran had disregarded a February resolution from the 35-nation IAEA board urging it to suspend all enrichment-related work and answer inquiries on its nuclear program.

Instead, Iran is testing a series of 20 connected centrifuges -- machines that convert uranium UF6 gas into fuel for atomic power reactors or, if purified to high levels, weapons.

Reuters PG DB2322

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