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U.N. draft resolution orders Iran to halt uranium enrichment

WASHINGTON—Britain and France, backed by the United States, introduced a draft U.N. Security Council resolution on Wednesday that would order Iran to halt uranium enrichment immediately because it poses a "threat to international peace and security."

The 15-nation council would "consider such further measures as may be necessary"—diplomatic language for sanctions or other punitive steps—if Iran refused to comply, the draft said.

The draft contained no deadline. "It should be a very short period of time," U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said.

The draft's introduction marked the beginning of what could be protracted diplomatic bargaining by Washington and its two European allies to win approval of a legally binding resolution on Iran.

Russia and China have joined in demands that Iran suspend work on enrichment, the process that produces low-enriched uranium for power plants and also can make highly enriched uranium for nuclear weapons.

But both countries oppose a resolution under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which empowers the council to act against threats to international peace and security. They worry that it could put a diplomatic solution beyond reach by opening the door to sanctions or military action against Tehran.

"I don't think this draft as it stands now will produce good results," said China's U.N. ambassador, Wang Guangya. "I think it is tougher than expected."

Vitaly Churkin, Russia's U.N. envoy, said he hoped problems with the proposed text could be resolved in time for a meeting of the U.S., British, French, Russian and Chinese foreign ministers in New York on Monday.

"Hopefully, we all like to do the hard work ourselves and leave the big things for our ministers," said Churkin.

Russia and China could use the vetoes they wield as permanent council members to block a Chapter 7 resolution, even though sanctions or other punitive measures couldn't be imposed without a separate authorizing resolution.

There was no immediate Iranian reaction to the draft.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other senior officials have repeatedly said that Iran won't relinquish what they assert is its right to peaceful enrichment of uranium under the Non-Proliferation Treaty, the key international pact to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons.

Iran, however, has admitted concealing its program for 18 years, including buying bomb-related know-how from a smuggling ring that supplied Libya's now-defunct nuclear weapons programs.

The United States and European governments charge that oil-rich Iran is developing a nuclear arsenal under the cover of a program to produce fuel for civilian power plants.

The crisis over Iran's enrichment program topped the agenda of talks Wednesday at the White House between President Bush and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

"It's very important that the international community send a clear message to the Iranians that a nuclear weapon is unacceptable," Bush said Wednesday during a post-meeting photo session with the German chancellor. "You know, the first important thing that must be done in achieving an issue diplomatically is for everybody to share a goal. And the goal is clear, and that is the Iranians should not have a nuclear weapon or the capacity to make a nuclear weapon."

Germany, Iran's largest foreign trading partner, has been privately urging the Bush administration to negotiate directly with Tehran, said European and U.S. officials.

Bush has left direct contacts largely up to France, Britain, Germany, Russia and the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

"There are plenty of channels of communications that are available if the Iranian government wants to pass information to the United States government or if the United States government wants to pass information to the Iranian government," State Department spokesman Sean McCormick said Wednesday.

The United States and the European Union are considering a range of sanctions, such as travel bans on senior Iranian officials. The Bush administration says it would organize like-minded countries to enforce them if the council fails to act.

The draft resolution expressed "serious concern" over Iran's continued enrichment work in defiance of the IAEA's calls to halt it, which the council endorsed in a nonbinding March 29 statement.

The key provisions directed that Iran "without delay . . . shall suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development."

It also ordered Iran to halt the construction of a heavy water reactor, which would produce plutonium that also could be used for nuclear weapons, and directed the IAEA to assess Iranian compliance.

Other provisions:

_Iran must answer outstanding questions about its program, including its purchase from the international smuggling ring of bomb-related know-how. It's failed to address these questions during a more than three-year IAEA investigation.

_Iran must allow IAEA monitors to resume snap inspections of its nuclear facilities.

_Other nations should "exercise vigilance in preventing the transfer" of technologies that could be used in Iran's enrichment project and its ballistic missile program.

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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