LONDON (AP) â€” Key members of the UN Security Council agreed Monday that Iran must fully suspend its nuclear programme, but came to no agreement on whether to refer the dispute for action by the council. Russian President Vladimir Putin held out hope for a compromise that could avoid such action, and Iran’s envoy to Moscow welcomed his proposal.
At a seven-hour meeting in London, China, Russia, France, Germany, America and Britain expressed “serious concerns” about Iran’s decision last week to resume research on nuclear fuel and break the UN seals at its main uranium enrichment plant, Britain’s foreign office said.
“There was agreement on the importance of Iran returning to the full suspension and negotiating process,” a foreign office spokesman said, speaking on condition of anonymity in keeping with government policy.
Britain, France, Germany and America have been pushing for a referral since the Europeans declared last week that talks with Tehran had reached a dead-end. Russia, which is deeply involved in building Iranian reactors for power generation, and China â€” heavily dependent on Iranian oil to power its booming economy â€” have been wary of the idea.
China has suggested that bringing Iran before the Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions, would worsen tensions. Iran says it will cease cooperating with the UN’s nuclear watchdog if it is referred to the council.
Putin suggested there might still be hope of avoiding that path.
He said after meeting German chancellor Angela Merkel in Moscow that Iran has not ruled out conducting its uranium enrichment in Russia, which would allow for close oversight. The proposal, also floated last year, would guarantee uranium would be enriched enough to power nuclear energy plants, but not enough to build weapons.
“We have heard various opinions from our Iranian partners on that issue. One of them has come from the foreign ministry â€” our partners told us they did not exclude the implementation of our proposal,” Putin said. “In any case, it’s necessary to work carefully and avoid any erroneous moves.” Iran’s ambassador to Moscow praised the idea.
“We consider it constructive and are carefully studying it. This is a good initiative to resolve the situation. We believe that Iran and Russia should find a way out of this jointly,” Gholamreza Ansari said in comments translated into Russian and shown on state Channel One television.
Speaking while the London meeting was still under way, Putin said his proposal didn’t mean Russia’s strategy differed from the one the Western powers are pursuing.
“Russia, Germany, our European partners and the United States have very close positions on the Iranian problem,” Putin said.
China made no immediate comment after the meeting.
Earlier, Monday, the foreign ministry in Beijing took a cautious tone.
“China believes that under the current situation, all relevant sides should remain restrained and stick to solving the Iranian nuclear issue through negotiations,” the ministry said in a statement.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, who was not at the meeting, said after it ended that London also wanted Iran to return to talks.
“What we hope is that as a result of this and other diplomatic pressure is that the Iranians will come back to the negotiating table … and will recognise the good intent of the European three,” he told Channel 4 news, referring to Britain, France and Germany, which negotiated with Tehran for 2 1/2 tense years.
However, diplomats from the three countries informed the others at the meeting that they plan to call for an emergency board meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency on February 2-3 to discuss what action to take against Tehran, the Foreign Office said.
That could be a step towards referral to the Security Council.
The United States and its European allies fear Iran intends to build an atomic bomb, and Iran’s new hard-line president’s sharp anti-Israeli comments have only fuelled their anxiety.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, travelling in Africa, said America wants a vote as soon as possible on whether to refer Iran to the Security Council, arguing that Tehran would take advantage of any delay.
“We’ve got to finally demonstrate to Iran that it can’t with impunity just cast aside the just demands of the international community,” she said.
Straw said the “onus is on Iran” to prove its programme is peaceful. He said the international community’s confidence had been “sorely undermined by a history of concealment and deception” by the clerical regime.
Tehran insists its intentions are peaceful and says it only wants to produce electricity. Iranian state radio reported Monday that the country had allocated the equivalent of $215 million for the construction of what would be its second and third nuclear power plants.