US upbeat on Iran talks; high-level meet on Monday
United Nations, March 17: U N Security Council ambassadors reported progress for the first time on how to rein in Iran's nuclear ambitions, although the United States acknowledged differences remained.
China appeared to be more flexible on a draft council statement but Russia was said to hang tough on how much the Security Council should be involved in Tehran's nuclear programme, which the West believes is a cover for bomb making, two envoys close to the talks said.
''Everybody has agreed it is important to send a strong signal to Iran that their nuclear weapons program is not permissible,'' U S Ambassador John Bolton yesterday.
''I would describe today's meeting as the best we have had so far. There are still areas of disagreement'' Bolton said.
Others agreed. ''We are much closer today than we were yesterday,'' said Tanzania's U N Ambassador Augustine Mahiga.
Qatar's ambassador, Abdulaziz al-Nasser, said ambassadors had suggested changes, some of which he expected to be incorporated into the text on Friday when council members meet again. No action is expected until next week at the earliest.
The British and French ambassadors, Emyr Jones Parry and Jean-March de la Sabliere, who drafted the statement, both called the talks ''productive.'' The statement would express ''serious concern'' about Iran's nuclear programme and ask it to comply with demands from the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency. But it does not threaten any punitive measures.
The statement requests a report from the International Atomic Energy Agency, perhaps within two weeks. Moscow would prefer it be given to the 35-nation IAEA board rather than to the Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in an interview with the Financial Times, said that while the Security Council could usefully call upon Tehran to co-operate with the IAEA, it should not take control of all details.
Lavrov said such an approach would create a ''highly politicized'' environment and make it more difficult for the IAEA to verify the extent of Tehran's nuclear programme, the London newspaper reported in its Friday editions.
HIGH-LEVEL MEETING Top foreign policy officials from the five veto-holding permanent Security Council members, as well as Germany, which is involved in negotiations on Iran, plan a session in New York on Monday to work out a strategy on the crisis.
U.N. envoys said participants would include Nicholas Burns, the U.S. undersecretary of state for political affairs.
Other participants include foreign ministry political directors John Sawers of Britain, Michael Schaefer of Germany, Stanislas de la Boulaye of France and Sergei Kislyak, Russia's deputy foreign minister.
China's envoy was not immediately known.
In Washington, Burns said said there would be ''some important discussions'' among the six nations and others ''on how we move forward'' on the statement.
But Bolton said he also expected the group to concentrate on long-term strategy, beyond the statement. ''It is for political directors to discuss broader aspects of this, what comes after this presidential statement,'' Bolton said.
France hosted its second session yesterday among all 15 Security Council members, who first received a draft text of the statement on Tuesday. On Friday, the 15 members will move the talks to UN headquarters.
A council statement needs to be approved by all 15 members, while a resolution requires nine votes in favor and no veto from any of the permanent members. If the impasse continues, the West could try to force Russia and China into the uncomfortable position of having to consider a resolution.