LONDON (Reuters) - Six world powers agreed on Friday to push ahead with a third round of U.N. sanctions against Iran unless reports this month indicate Tehran has tried to address their concerns about its nuclear program.
Senior officials from Britain, France, Germany, the United States, Russia and China will meet again on November 19 to assess reports from Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the U.N. atomic watchdog, and from European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, a spokesman for Britain’s Foreign Office said.
“Political directors agreed to finalize a text for a third U.N. Security Council sanctions resolution with the intention of bringing it to a vote in the U.N. Security Council unless the November reports of Dr. Solana and Dr. ElBaradei show a positive outcome of the efforts,” the spokesman said.
In Washington, the U.S. State Department said it was disappointed by the stance of China and Russia — which have resisted tightening Security Council sanctions against Iran — and wanted the diplomacy to “move more quickly.”
Iran has refused to halt uranium enrichment after two previous U.N. sanctions resolutions and denies it wants to make atomic bombs, saying its program is for power generation.
But in a potential step forward, Iran’s ISNA news agency quoted an Iranian official as saying Tehran would be ready to join a body that would provide enriched uranium for users in the Middle East.
A top Saudi official discussed the idea in a magazine interview this week as a way to defuse Iran’s nuclear standoff with the West, saying power plants would receive only the fuel they needed to ensure none would be used for atomic weapons.
Britain said on Friday the top officials had asked Solana to seek a further meeting with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator and to report back.
The United States imposed unilateral economic sanctions last week and has not ruled out military action against Iran. Britain has also been pushing hard for a third round of U.N. sanctions.
But diplomats from other countries have said they want to hear how Iran’s talks with the U.N. watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), are progressing after Tehran agreed to answer questions about past secret nuclear work.
Before Friday’s meeting, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said Russia and China, major trading partners with Iran, had effectively blocked moves towards a third sanctions resolution for six months.
Afterwards, a State Department spokesman said Burns, who attended the London meeting, was “disappointed in China and in Russia as well” and that Washington wanted both countries “to make more effort ... to allow us all to move forward.”
Russia believes dialogue rather than more punishment is the way forward, while China reacted to the U.S. sanctions by saying it was opposed to acting “too rashly.”
But the group agreed on Friday to try to resolve the row through diplomatic means, the Foreign Office spokesman said.
“(The political directors) reiterated their commitment to negotiate a long-term solution to the Iranian nuclear issue and urged Iran to take up their offer of negotiation,” he said.
Former Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said on Friday that Tehran was cooperating with the IAEA, referring to an agreement in August under which Tehran pledged to clear up suspicions about past secret atomic activities.
“America is making a mistake,” said Rafsanjani, an influential cleric and speaker of the powerful Assembly of Experts.
“Iran has entered into negotiations and is talking to the agency (IAEA). Iran has told (the IAEA) to ask its questions and get the answers. One should be patient and negotiate.”
Referring to any possible U.S. military action, he said: “such threats, if they come true, will create another quagmire for the global arrogance of (the United States).”
Additional reporting by Sue Pleming and Arshad Mohammed in Washington and Zahra Hosseinian in Tehran