PARIS—Iran now has days, not weeks, to suspend its nuclear enrichment activities or face a United Nations resolution and sanctions, world powers agreed Wednesday.
The agreement was reached by the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council—the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France—along with Germany.
Russia and China, which have large business deals with Iran, in the past have been hesitant to punish the oil-rich nation. As each country holds veto power at the U.N., it remained unclear whether a sanctions proposal could succeed.
The Security Council and the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency have called on Iran to suspend enriching uranium. They say Iran hasn't provided all the information the IAEA needs to determine whether its nuclear programs are only for civilian purposes.
Iran says it's seeking only low-enriched uranium as fuel for power reactors. U.S. and European officials think Iran is using its civilian nuclear program as a cover for producing highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons. Iran has admitted concealing its program for 18 years and purchasing bomb-related know-how from an international smuggling ring.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the foreign ministers of China, France, Russia, Germany and Britain in a statement expressed "profound disappointment" over Iran's responses to a June 1 offer of political and economic rewards in exchange for suspending uranium enrichment. The incentives are thought to include sales of passenger aircraft to Iran and the creation of a consortium that would supply the country with light-water reactors, which are very difficult to use to produce fuel for nuclear weapons.
Iran's lead negotiator, Ali Larijani, met Tuesday with Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, and said there were too many ambiguities in the offer for Iran to meet the six countries' Wednesday deadline to respond.
"The Iranians have given no indication at all that they are ready to engage seriously on the substance of our proposals," said a statement signed by all six representatives and read by French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy. "Iran has failed to take the steps needed to allow negotiations to begin."
If Iran doesn't accept the package soon, the six nations will seek a Security Council resolution making the suspension of Iran's uranium enrichment mandatory, possibly as early as next week.
There was no immediate indication of what sanctions might be considered. Iran could face such sanctions as a ban on visas for Iranian officials, an arms embargo and the freezing of some assets.
The six countries reached the agreement after two and a half hours of meetings in the vaulted salons of the French Foreign Ministry.
Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, the chief U.S. negotiator on Iran, said the agreement pleased the United States.
"This is a significant decision that frankly reflects the disappointment and frustration of our countries over the lack of a serious response," he said after the announcement. "Iran has given us no choice but to move this matter to the Security Council."
(c) 2006, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.
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