The US, the UK and France chose unity over speed and agreed to delay until November a UN Security Council vote on a third sanctions resolution against Iran.
The delay, a concession to Russia, China and Germany -- the other three countries in the fragile coalition of six world powers that are seeking to rein in Tehran's nuclear ambitions -- came after a week of haggling on the outskirts of the General Assembly. The six countries issued a statement advising Iran that a diplomatic offer of economic incentives remained on the table if Iran suspended its uranium enrichment program.
The statement said the six powers would finalize the new resolution and bring it to a vote unless reports from the European foreign-policy chief Javier Solana and the International Atomic Energy Agency in November "show a positive outcome of their efforts."
Bush administration officials, who have been pushing diplomats to ramp up sanctions against Iran, said the move to put off a decision until November reflected the harsh realities of getting all six countries to speak with one voice. While officials from Britain, France and the US were pressing for another sanctions vote right away, China and Russia in particular wanted to wait for another report from the nuclear monitoring agency.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice -- whose often-volatile relationship with her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, erupted again this week as Russia refused to support immediate sanctions -- sought on Friday to minimize the differences between the countries.
"We've made it very clear that we've always wanted to keep the two tracks under way," she told reporters in New York.
US officials routinely use the phrase "two tracks" to refer to both the sanctions and the negotiations with Iran. "We will be watching to see what progress takes place."
But her deputy, Nicholas Burns, the top US negotiator on the Iran issue, acknowledged that "the alchemy of this group is such that anything is going to be a compromise."
He took issue with the speech by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad before the General Assembly this week, in which the Iranian leader said that the nuclear dispute with the West, which believes that Iran is working on a nuclear weapons program, is now "closed."
"I'm sorry, he was badly mistaken," Burns told reporters during a news conference. "Here, he has six ministers saying so."
Iran has maintained that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.
During a lunch of ministers from the G8 industrialized nations on Wednesday, Rice and Lavrov exchanged sharp words on the right time to push for more Iran sanctions.
One European diplomat who was present said that "it's getting to the point that you can't get any work done if those two are in the room together," referring to Rice and Lavrov.
The diplomat spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly about tension between Rice and Lavrov.
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