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UN Council close to Iran deal but not there yet

Written by: Staff

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 29 (Reuters) The five U N Security Council powers moved closer to an agreement today on a statement that would call on Iran to suspend parts of its suspect nuclear program that could be used to build weapons.

The five veto-holding nations -- the United States, Russia, Britain, France and China -- were trying to complete a draft statement on Iran's nuclear program ahead of a full Security Council meeting later today.

''We are not there yet but I am quite confident that we will be soon,'' British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said after a round of talks among the five nations.

Russian and Chinese envoys also expressed optimism they could come up with a joint statement but said they would check with their governments because differences still remained.

Britain and France, backed by the United States, distributed a revised text late yesterday to all 15 Security Council members that made concessions to Russia and China. But it still called on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment efforts, which the West believes are a cover for bomb making.

Iran restarted its nuclear enrichment program earlier this year but insists its aim is to develop nuclear energy rather than weapons.

''There are two or three areas which still need fine tuning,'' said China's U N ambassador Wang Guangya. ''But my feeling is that we are close.'' Russian and Chinese envoys said the main stumbling block was a provision saying the council was responsible for international peace and security. Both countries fear such a statement may later be used as a basis for tougher action against Iran, including sanctions.

THREE WEEKS OF TALKS Negotiations have stretched over three weeks on the statement, which is nonbinding and threatens no punitive measures. But Russia, backed by China, is determined to prevent the possibility of future sanctions or other punitive measures against Iran.

Russia's representative, Konstantin Dolgov, told Reuters, he still hoped for approval today. If not, he said, the five might have to pass the issue to their foreign ministers who are scheduled to meet in Berlin tomorrow to discuss future strategy on Iran.

''We still think that we should not say anything in this text which could be misconstrued as the Security Council taking it over from the IAEA,'' said Dolgov, in reference to the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, the U N nuclear watchdog.

The IAEA referred the Iranian issue to the council on March 8 after Tehran resumed nuclear fuel work. This prompted European negotiators -- Germany, France and Britain -- to break off 2-1/2 years of talks.

The latest proposed statement modifies the previous language on peace and security. It also deletes specific charges and demands on Iran's nuclear program and instead refers to resolutions of the IAEA board that mention them.

Another change is a request that the IAEA director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, report back on Iran's compliance within 30 days instead of the 14 days in the original text.

Reuters KD DB2334

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