UNITED NATIONS China and Russia objected Tuesday to a tough U.N. Security Council statement backed by the United States, Britain and France calling for a report in two weeks on Iran's compliance with demands that it suspend uranium enrichment.
While the five veto-wielding council members are united against Iran developing nuclear weapons, they disagree on how to get Tehran to comply with demands by the U.N. nuclear watchdog to stop all enrichment and reprocessing and answer questions about its controversial nuclear program.
Uranium enrichment can be used either in the generation of electricity or to make nuclear weapons. Iran insists its program is to produce nuclear energy but the International Atomic Energy Agency has raised concerns that Tehran might be seeking nuclear arms.
The draft Security Council proposals would express "the conviction that continued Iranian enrichment-related activity would intensify international concern." It also would reaffirm that the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction "constitutes a threat to international peace and security" language that already appears in virtually all U.N. sanctions resolutions.
The United States and its allies believe Security Council action will put pressure on Iran and could lead to tougher measures later on, such as sanctions.
Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, issued a tough line on his country's suspect nuclear program Tuesday, saying it is "irreversible" and any retreat would endanger the Islamic republic's independence.
Russia and China, allies of Iran, are not as skeptical of its intentions and believe that tough council action could spark an Iranian withdrawal from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and expulsion of inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.
China and Russia on Tuesday reiterated the importance of diplomatic efforts to resolve the standoff.
The five permanent members met Tuesday and were scheduled to meet again today.
China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya said he sought a council statement with a short political message calling "on the Iranians to cooperate, to comply with the IAEA resolutions, support the IAEA authority on this issue, and give the Security Council support to the IAEA let the IAEA continue to play the main role."
The United States wants "to strengthen the IAEA's hand," U.S. Ambassador John Bolton said, but it also believes "the Security Council has an independent obligation when faced with the risk of proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in violation of treaty obligations, which is what the case of Iran is."
He said the United States wants to move as quickly as possible.
"Every day that goes by is a day that permits the Iranians to get closer to a nuclear weapons capability," Bolton warned.
Whether the opposing views can be reconciled remains to be seen.
On Tuesday afternoon, the entire 15-member council met for the first time to discuss the elements in the draft British-French text; further consultations were scheduled on Thursday.
Last month, the IAEA's board voted to report Iran to the Security Council, saying it lacked confidence in Tehran's nuclear intentions and accusing Iran of violating the NPT.
Iran responded by ending voluntary cooperation with the IAEA and announcing it would start uranium enrichment and bar surprise inspections of its facilities.