High-ranking officials from the UN Security Council's five permanent members were to gather in Paris yesterday to thrash out a common position on how to tackle a defiant Iran over its nuclear program.
The meeting, at the political director level, was the first for representatives of Britain, China, France, Russia and the US since the International Atomic Energy Agency reported to the UN Security Council last Friday that Iran was violating a UN order to halt uranium enrichment.
The US, backed by Britain and France, is pushing for a hard line against Iran, up to and including sanctions. It fears Tehran is trying to develop a nuclear arsenal under cover of an atomic energy program.
However, Russia and China are reluctant to go along with that, and are seeking more diplomatic ways to make Iran comply with the international community's demands.
US President George W. Bush on Monday telephoned his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to stress "the importance of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons," according to his spokesman in Washington.
The Paris meeting would also include an official from Germany, which, though not a permanent UN Security Council member, has held months of negotiations with Tehran on behalf of the EU alongside France and Britain.
The gathering was in preparation for a foreign ministers' meeting from the six countries in New York next Monday.
The US and the Europeans are seeking a resolution invoking the UN Charter's Chapter 7 -- text which would open the door to political and economic sanctions and even, as a last resort, military action.
But China has already said that any harsh UN resolution would be "dangerous," while Russia has merely urged Iran to "take concrete steps" to build trust with the international community.
Former US secretary of state Colin Powell acknowledged in an interview on British television at the weekend that "the menu of sanctions would be quite limited ... I mean those that could actually get through the Security Council."
Letter to the UN
Iran, for its part, wrote a letter to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Monday to complain about the reported threat of a US attack with or without UN approval.
In the letter, Iran's ambassador, Javad Zarif, pointed to recent comments by US President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on ways to halt Iran's nuclear program and to news reports of Pentagon planning for possible nuclear attacks on nuclear facilities in Iran.
"Such dangerous statements, particularly those of the US president, widely considered in political and media circles as a tacit confirmation of the shocking news on the administration's possible contemplation of nuclear strikes against certain targets in Iran, defiantly articulate the US policies and intentions on the resort to nuclear weapons," Zarif wrote in the letter.
He said the comments by the US were "matters of extreme gravity that require an urgent, concerted and resolute response on the part of the UN and particularly the Security Council."
Zarif also faulted the UN for remaining silent on "these illegal and inexcusable threats" and said the lack of action had "emboldened senior US officials to go further and even consider the use of nuclear weapons as `an option on the table.'"