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Europeans, US move to refer Iran to UN Security Council

Russia, China urge course of negotiation

VIENNA -- Pressure on Iran intensified yesterday, with key European countries and the United States moving ahead with plans to refer Tehran to the UN Security Council and Israel vowing not to let the Iranians develop nuclear weapons.

But Russia and China -- Iran's past backers -- urged negotiations instead of confrontation, casting doubt on whether next month's International Atomic Energy Agency meeting will demonstrate a unified political will.

A meeting Monday in London produced no agreement among the United States, France, Britain, and Germany and Moscow and Beijing on whether to refer the dispute over Iranian nuclear enrichment to the Security Council, which could impose sanctions.

Past opposition to such action by Russia and China led the Europeans and the United States to postpone referral.

Russia and China have joined Europe and the United States in criticizing Iran's resumption of uranium enrichment. But both would prefer to avoid Security Council involvement and are outright opposed to sanctions.

A draft text by Britain proposing referral when the IAEA's 35-nation board of directors meets Feb. 2 reflected deference to the Russians and Chinese, stopping short of calls for punitive measures.

Instead, the text, read in part to the Associated Press by a European diplomat accredited to the UN nuclear watchdog agency, urges the 15-nation council to press Tehran ''to extend full and prompt cooperation to the agency" in its investigation of suspect nuclear activities.

It also asks the council to make clear ''that additional transparency measures are indispensable" if Iran hopes to prove it does not want to make nuclear weapons.

The diplomat agreed to share the confidential information only on condition of anonymity.

The wording of the text is sure to change ahead of the IAEA meeting. Still, the fact that it was calling on the council to send Iran's nuclear file back to the IAEA provided the latest indication the country could escape sanctions.

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack suggested Washington would push to have Iran hauled before the Security Council no matter what the Russians and Chinese thought.

''We have the votes for a referral to the Security Council, and we believe that that is the action the IAEA is going to take when they meet in February," he said. ''Whether or not the Russians vote with the rest of the world is up to them.

''I will refer you to Russian officials, Chinese officials, or any other particular country about how they may vote at the IAEA Board of Governors meeting."

Moscow supports calling on Iran to renew a moratorium on uranium enrichment, a possible pathway to nuclear arms. But asked yesterday whether Russia would be ready to refer Iran to the Security Council for violating the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said other means should be considered first.

''I don't think that the potential of the IAEA's Governing Board has been exhausted and the European troika has the same opinion," he said, alluding to France, Britain, and Germany, which represent the European Union in talks on the issue.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry took a cautious tone, saying ''all relevant sides should remain restrained and stick to solving the Iranian nuclear issue through negotiations."

Israel -- whose right to exist has been denied by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad -- took a tough stance.

In response to a question about Iran, acting Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said ''under no circumstances can Israel allow someone with hostile intentions against us to have control over weapons of mass destruction that can endanger our existence."

Israel has refused to categorically rule out military strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities. But officials say that's not in the cards anytime soon, and Olmert said yesterday any Israeli action would be in cooperation with the international community.

Raising hopes for a compromise, Iran on Monday praised a proposal by Russian President Vladimir Putin to conduct Iranian uranium enrichment in Russia, which would allow for greater international oversight.

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