VIENNA, Austria (AP) – The United States may turn to the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency to exert more pressure on Iran out of frustration with Russian and Chinese opposition to firm Security Council action, diplomats said Wednesday.
The diplomats told The Associated Press that the U.S. delegation to the International Atomic Energy Agency has contacted other nations over the past few days to gauge support for a special IAEA board meeting on Iran’s nuclear program.
But the envoys _ who were familiar with talks on Iran’s nuclear dossier but spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to reveal the American initiative _ emphasized that no decisions had been made on the idea.
And Adam Ereli, a State Department spokesman, said the U.S. was waiting for a report later this month by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei about Iran’s nuclear program.
“We will study that report carefully and decide on next steps at that time,” Ereli said.
Still, diplomats’ statements that Washington might consider such action were significant.
U.S. officials have for weeks been publicly in favor of shifting international attention over Iran’s nuclear program from the Vienna-based agency _ which has no enforcement authority _ to the Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions backed by the threat of military force.
Years of U.S. lobbying paid off in February, when the IAEA’s 35-nation board agreed to refer Iran’s nuclear file to the more powerful U.N. body. But since then, the council’s five veto-packing members have been divided, with Moscow and Beijing opposing efforts by the U.S., France and Britain to move from requesting Iranian compliance to demanding it.
The split appeared to persist Wednesday.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov urged Iran to halt all uranium enrichment after a meeting in Moscow among senior officials of the five permanent council members plus Germany, but he acknowledged the talks produced no decision on how to proceed if Tehran fails to comply.
U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told the AP in Moscow that the possibility of sanctions had been discussed but indicated more talks were needed.
“What is new is a greater sense of urgency given what the Iranians did last week,” Burns said later to reporters, alluding to Iran’s announcement that it had succeeded in enriching uranium.
Burns, echoing a statement Tuesday by President Bush, did not reject the possibility of a military response.
“Obviously, the United States always keeps all options on the table … but we’re focused on diplomacy,” he said.
In Paris, French President Jacques Chirac and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak said they were opposed to military intervention in Iran.
“We have to explore all the possibilities offered by a diplomatic option in order to avoid a destabilization of the Middle East, and probably of the rest of the world,” Chirac said at their joint news conference.