UNITED NATIONS, Mar 23 (Reuters) Major-power nations tried to break a U.N. impasse on Iran's nuclear ambitions with a round of telephone calls among their foreign ministers today seeking to produce a unified message, diplomats said.
After two weeks of haggling over an initial U.N. Security Council reaction to Iran's suspected nuclear program, Britain, France and the United States were unable to get support from Russia and China, the other two veto-holding Security Council nations, on a draft statement they had proposed.
U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said talks among foreign ministers of the five permanent members on Thursday were needed before any decisions could be taken in the 15-member Security Council.
''We're waiting for the outcome of the conversations at higher pay grades,'' Bolton told reporters.
Other council diplomats said most of the phone calls would go to Russia's foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, who is visiting Beijing, and who has the toughest position on future U.N. action.
Russia and China fear that involvement by the 15-member council, which can impose sanctions, could escalate and lead to punitive measures, and even justify military action, although the draft statement carries no threat of punishment.
The proposed Security Council statement would tell Iran to suspend uranium enrichment efforts that could produce fuel for an atomic bomb. Tehran says it nuclear research is for peaceful purposes, while the West believes it is a cover for bomb making.
Moscow and Beijing fear that involvement by the 15-member council, which can impose sanctions, could escalate and lead to punitive measures, and even justify military action, although the draft statement carries no threat of punishment.
Ambassadors of the five permanent council members are expected to meet again today. But the deadlock prompted them to cancel a meeting of the full 15-member council on Tuesday without scheduling a new session.
Lavrov told Moscow's Interfax news agency on Wednesday the current text was unacceptable and removed the issue from the 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
''The draft includes points that effectively lay the groundwork for sanctions against Iran,'' said Lavrov. ''We will hardly be able to support this version.'' Russia, backed by China, wants to delete large sections of the draft statement, which was drawn up by Britain and France.
Both European nations are willing to amend the proposal if that would give it a chance of being adopted.
Still, White House spokesman Scott McClellan said he did not believe the issue was deadlocked. ''I wouldn't describe it that way.
This is diplomacy at work. Diplomacy takes time.'' If the talks drag on, Britain and France have considered dropping the idea of a council statement, which requires agreement by all 15 members. Instead they would turn the statement into a resolution, which needs nine favorable votes and no veto, and dare Russia and China to vote ''no.'' Several weeks ago, the Western powers had hoped the statement could be followed by a resolution that would make the demands mandatory but not threaten any action. If Iran still did not comply, diplomats said another resolution could threaten unspecified measures.
On Monday, senior diplomats from the five powers and Germany met in New York to discuss future strategy. But that meeting, participants said, did not make any headway.
Reuters SY DB2214