UNITED NATIONS – Russia’s U.N. ambassador on Friday rejected proposals for the U.N. Security Council to demand a quick progress report on Iran’s suspect nuclear program, saying — only half in jest — that fast action could lead to the bombing of Iran by June.
Andrey Denisov spoke just before a Security Council meeting where diplomats considered a revised list of British, French and American proposals for a statement on Iran. The latest drafts retain many elements that Russia and China have opposed.
A key sticking point for Russia is a proposal asking Mohamed ElBaradei, the chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency, to deliver a progress report in two weeks on Iran’s progress toward clearing up suspicions about its nuclear program. Russia and China say two weeks is far too soon.
“Let’s just imagine that we adopt it and today we issued that statement — then what happens after two weeks?” Denisov told The Associated Press. “In such a pace we’ll start bombing in June.”
Denisov chuckled after he made the remark, but it reflected Russia’s fears that the international community has not yet decided how to respond if Iran continues to resist demands that it make explicitly clear it is not seeking nuclear arms.
But U.S. Ambassador John Bolton betrayed an increasing frustration with Russia, which along with China wants the council to take only mild action. Bolton warned that as he spoke, Iran’s centrifuges were enriching uranium — a crucial step toward producing weapons-grade fissile material.
“If I were as near to Iran as Russia is, I’d certainly want to get this resolved quickly,” Bolton said. “I think in the Russian nuclear establishment, I think they know exactly what Iran is doing.”
The ambassadors of Britain, France and the United States said they were flexible on the 14-day deadline, and diplomats suggested that the council could ultimately ask for a report in 30-45 days as a concession to Russia and China.
“We have signaled that there’s flexibility on the assumption that we adopt this text soon, but the longer it takes, then the shorter the time will be,” Britain’s U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones-Parry said.
The council planned to meet again Tuesday.
In the meantime, senior officials from six key countries involved in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program will meet Monday to discuss both initial council action and the larger strategy toward Iran. The officials from Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany will talk about both the proposals circulated Friday and overall strategy.
The Security Council is split on the issue of Iran’s nuclear program between Britain, France and the United States, which want a statement spelling out a number of detailed demands, and Russia and China, which believe that such action would send the wrong message to Iran.
Russia and China, which are allies of Iran, have said in the past that tough council action could spark an Iranian withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. They also fear council action could eventually lead to tougher measures, such as sanctions.
Backed by the United States, Britain and France have proposed a statement that would spell out demands that have already been made by the IAEA. They include a demand that Iran suspend uranium enrichment and take steps toward greater transparency and more cooperation.
Uranium enrichment can be used either in electricity generation or to make nuclear weapons. Iran insists its program is to produce nuclear energy — not weapons, as the United States believes.
Denisov said that even though the IAEA demands were not new, Russia nonetheless wants the council simply to refer to IAEA documents where they were first expressed.
The primary concern of Russia and China throughout has been that the IAEA — and not the Security Council — play the main role in handling Iran.
“I think the basic message — if we do have a message — is to be a short, brief, clear-cut message to support the IAEA,” China’s U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya said after Friday’s meeting.