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West softens UN draft on Iran in push for consensus

Written by: Staff
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UNITED NATIONS, Mar 29 (Reuters) Western powers softened a draft U N Security Council statement on reining in Iran's nuclear ambitions in hopes of reaching a deal with Russia and China foreign ministers meet this week.

Still, the new draft, obtained by Reuters, retains calls on Tehran to suspend uranium-enrichment efforts, a process that can produce fuel necessary for making a nuclear bomb.

The text deletes language on several specific demands. Instead it refers only to the number of the resolution that contained them and was adopted by the International Atomic Energy Agency board in Vienna, the U N nuclear watchdog.

Britain and France, authors of the draft backed by the United States, distributed the document yesterday, their third revision, to the full 15-nation U N Security Council for discussion on Wednesday, three weeks after talks began.

''We have reached agreement on the bulk of the text, so there was movement on all sides, and now we need to see whether we can cross this last bridge but we're very close,'' U S Ambassador John Bolton told reporters.

The three Western nations hope to convince Russia and China to agree on the document, a day before foreign ministers of the five permanent members and Germany meet in Berlin tomorrow to map out strategy towards Iran.

OUTSTANDING ISSUES Russia, which has the hardest line, fears that any council involvement could lead to an escalation of punitive action, such as sanctions. Moscow and Beijing have not signed on to all points in the new Security Council draft so the West's self-imposed today deadline may not be met.

Ambassadors from the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China, permanent council members with veto power, met three times yesterday on the Iran research programs, which Tehran says are for peaceful purposes but the West believes are a cover for atomic-bomb making.

Bolton and British Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said there were still one or two issues outstanding.

The main one was a provision that referred to weapons of mass destruction as a threat to international peace and security. Russia believes this could be a prelude to harsher punishment, diplomats said.

But Moscow has not yet agreed to the new language in yesterday's draft. This ''recalls its (the Security Council's) primary responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security.'' Somewhat exasperated, Bolton said, ''I am confident that the Security Council, under the (U.N.) Charter, has a responsibility for the maintenance of international peace and security, and I am not worried about saying it.'' ''We have been incredibly flexible. Incredibly flexible. I probably have never been more flexible,'' Bolton said.

Another unsolved issue, China said, was the how long the director of the IAEA, Mohamed ElBaradei had to report to the council on whether Iran had complied with its demands.

The original text said 14 days while the new text refers to 30 days. Russia had proposed until June. China's U.N.

Ambassador Wang Guangya told reporters the timeline had not been agreed yet.

REUTERS PDS RN0756

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