Iran says U.N. referral will be ‘end of diplomacy’
Permanent members agree Security Council should act; sanctions possible

Updated: 7:41 a.m. ET Jan. 31, 2006

LONDON - Any move to report or refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council over its nuclear standoff with the West would spell the end of diplomatic efforts to resolve the issue, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator said Tuesday.

“Referring or reporting Iran’s dossier to the U.N. Security Council will be unconstructive and the end of diplomacy,” state television quoted Ali Larijani as saying.

Tehran's response came less than a day after the United States and other permanent members of the Security Council reached surprising accord that Iran should be taken before that powerful body. But it is not clear that Tehran would face punishment.

Foreign ministers from China and Russia, longtime allies and trading partners of Iran, signed on to a statement that calls on the U.N. nuclear watchdog to transfer its Iran dossier to the Security Council, which could impose sanctions or take other harsh action.

Russia, in particular, has sought to avert the Security Council route in favor of further talks and scrutiny by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov agreed to the move only after a dinner meeting that, at nearly four hours, went far longer than expected.

Russia, China, the United States, Britain and France said the Security Council should wait until March to take up the Iran case, after a formal report on Tehran’s activities from the watchdog agency.

Compromise agreement
Foreign ministers from Germany and the European Union also attended the dinner and agreed to what amounted to a compromise: taking the case to the Security Council but allowing a short breather before the council undertakes what could be a divisive debate.

Any of the five permanent members of the Security Council, all nuclear powers themselves, can veto an action voted by the full council membership.

Iran broke U.N. seals at a uranium enrichment plant Jan. 10 and said it would resume nuclear fuel research after a two-year freeze. Tehran said the research would involve what it called limited uranium enrichment, but the action raised fears Tehran was using its pursuit of atomic power as a front for a nuclear weapons program.

Iran insists its nuclear program is intended only to produce electricity. The United States and some allies say Iran is hiding ambitions to build a nuclear bomb, but the Security Council members have been divided about how strong a line to take.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other foreign ministers issued a joint statement Tuesday calling on the IAEA to report on the Iran case when it meets Thursday in Vienna.

The statement was silent about what the Security Council should do once it has the Iran case before it, and world opinion has been widely divided on the various options, which range from letting the case languish to slapping severe economic penalties on the oil-exporting nation.

The group agreed that the IAEA “should report to the Security Council its decision on the steps required of Iran, and should also report to the Security Council all IAEA reports and resolutions as adopted relating to this issue.”

The IAEA has already found Iran in violation of nuclear obligations and issued a stern warning to Tehran in September. Thursday’s vote would be the next step, one long sought by the United States.

It is still not clear how Russia and China would vote if the questions of sanctions came before the Security Council. It is also not clear that the United States will win the broad international consensus it seeks when the IAEA votes.

The IAEA “will report on the situation in Iran and the way the Iranian authorities are not cooperating with the international agency,” said a French government official, speaking on the customary condition of anonymity.

United front
He said the Russian and Chinese ministers had initially been reluctant to agree to refer Iran to the Security Council, but were persuaded of the need for the council members to show a united front.

“It was very important to make sure they are all together on this issue and all agree on the same position.”

European foreign ministers met with Iran’s deputy nuclear negotiator in Brussels on Monday but said they failed to make progress.

The EU said a Russian proposal to enrich uranium and send the fuel back to Iran, allowing more oversight of the process, could be the solution, but Rice has questioned the drawn-out negotiations over the offer.

“This has now been several months. So when the Iranians now evince interest in the Russian proposal, one has to wonder if that isn’t because they now face the prospect of referral to the Security Council,” Rice said before the dinner meeting.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.