VIENNA World powers look set to overcome their differences and agree on a U.N. atomic agency resolution aimed at putting diplomatic pressure on Iran to address mounting fears about its nuclear program, Western diplomats said on Wednesday.
The fact that the six major powers seem close to an agreement on a joint text will be welcomed in the West after a U.N. nuclear report last week exposed divisions with Russia on how to best handle the long-running dispute with Tehran.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) report, which gave independent credibility to Western allegations, set out a mass of intelligence suggesting Iran was seeking the capability to adapt nuclear material for use in weaponry.
The proposed resolution would express concern about Iran's atomic activities and call on the Islamic state to resolve issues raised by the U.N. agency, asking IAEA chief Yukiya Amano to report back to the next board meeting in March.
It is expected to be formally submitted on Thursday at the start of a two-day meeting of the 35-nation governing board of the IAEA, the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear body. If the big powers are behind it, its adoption is virtually guaranteed.
"The result that we are looking for is one that demonstrates to Iran very clearly ... the international community's resolve as well as its very serious concerns about Iran's nuclear program," U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in Washington.
But the draft board text -- expected to be co-sponsored by the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China -- would stop short of taking concrete actions such as reporting Iran once again to the U.N. Security Council.
"We are almost there," one Western envoy said, echoing the views of others who suggested it was a question of one capital confirming the agreement before it could be finalized. "Very close," another diplomat said.
There has been concern that if the powers cannot close ranks on isolating Iran to nudge it into serious negotiations, then Israel, which feels endangered by the nuclear aspirations of its arch-enemy, will attack it.
The unprecedented IAEA document revealed splits among the big powers. Russia criticized the report as politicized, while Western states seized on it to try to step up pressure on Tehran in the form of harsher economic sanctions.
Western countries faced a dilemma ahead of this week's IAEA governors meeting: press for a strongly worded resolution and risk Russian and Chinese opposition, or accept a weaker text in order to preserve big-power unity.
The main goal of the IAEA board resolution would be to demonstrate a common front among the big powers and push Iran -- one of the world's largest oil producers -- to engage in good-faith talks about its nuclear program.
Iran, which says it is enriching uranium only for fuel for power plants and not for nuclear weapons, condemned the IAEA's findings as "unbalanced" and "politically motivated" but has yet to offer detailed answers to the allegations.
Russia, which has trade and other ties with Iran, has been softer on Tehran than the United States and the European Union, and has worked with China to water down previous U.N. Security Council sanctions. China is a big importer of Iranian oil.
Last week's IAEA report cited "credible" information indicating that Iran had worked on designing a nuclear warhead and other weapons-relevant activities and that secret research may continue.
Moscow has said the IAEA report contained no new evidence and is being used to undercut efforts to reach a diplomatic solution to the nuclear row with Iran.
The United States and its allies have made clear they intend to tighten sanctions on Iran after the IAEA report, with both Washington and Israel refusing to rule out military action if diplomacy fails to resolve the row.
Despite such differences, U.S. President Barack Obama said on Saturday he and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev "reaffirmed our intention to work and shape a common response so we can move Iran to follow its international obligations when it comes to its nuclear program."
Toner, the State Department spokesman, said members of the six-power group "share concern" about Iran's nuclear work.
"There is strong unity among its members, and there is I think a commitment moving forward to send a clear message," he said.
(Additional reporting by Tabassum Zakaria in Washington; Editing by Richard Meares)