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UN Security Council Nearing Consensus on Iran Referral Draft

The UN Security Council is inching toward agreeing a revised Franco-British draft urging Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, diplomats said Friday as China suggested that Tehran be given up to six weeks to do so.

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The Security Council members and Germany are near to agreeing a united stance on Iran

The 15-member council met for over one hour Friday to review the revised text, which incorporated comments made by members after a series of informal sessions earlier this week. Members agreed to meet again Tuesday after getting reactions from their capitals.

"The response we got from our colleagues today suggests that we are pretty close to where they wanted us to be," Britain's UN envoy Emyr Jones Parry told reporters.

"Our wish remains that the council should act expeditiously on this text and send the clearest possible signal (to Tehran) ... to reinforce the activities of the (International Atomic Energy Agency) Agency," he added.

French Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere also said he was "encouraged by the reaction" to the revised text, which he noted was "getting a lot of support."

"We are not very far now from the end of the discussion," the French envoy said, adding that the co-sponsors were awaiting reactions from other members' capitals to the text. "I hope the reactions will be positive."

Elements of the revised draft released Friday said the UN nuclear watchdog would report "to the Security Council as well as to the IAEA board of governors, in (14) days on Iranian compliance with the requirements set out by the IAEA board."

Halt to enrichment and commencement of inspections

These include suspending immediately all uranium enrichment activities and resuming implementation of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty's Additional Protocol that allows for wider inspections of a country's nuclear facilities.

But speaking before the meeting, Chinese ambassador Wang Guangya said the 14-day deadline was too short. "We must leave sufficient time for diplomacy and for the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) to work ... at least four weeks to six weeks," he noted.

The US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, responded: "I don't think there's really been much support to go beyond a month," adding, however, that there was some flexibility on the US side on this point.

"The main intent here is to get the Iranians to reconsider the mistake that they've made these last 18 years, trying to pursue nuclear weapons, so the sooner we get that message out and the sooner we hear their response I think the better," Bolton added.

US favors short time frame while China, Russia urge patience

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, in an interview with The Financial Times on Friday, also dismissed the 14-day period as "not very feasible."

Lavrov said he saw "a parallel" between the current Iranian crisis and the run-up to the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 when the Security Council intervened before UN inspectors had done their job. "We would not like to see the situation where the value of the professional agencies would be underestimated ... at the expense of us getting to the bottom of the facts," Lavrov said.

Russia's UN envoy Andrei Denisov welcomed the Franco-British draft's reference to the need for IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei to send his report on Iranian compliance to both the Security Council and the IAEA board of governors.

"This is movement in the right direction but we think it is not enough," he said. "We still think the IAEA should play the leading role."

"It would be logical that ElBaradei report be reviewed by the (IAEA) board first and then sent to the Security Council," Denisov said, stressing that the IAEA was the proper place to assess technical aspects of the nuclear dossier.

Council members plus Germany to meet Monday

Tehran rejects Western charges that it is trying to acquire nuclear weapons and insists it has a right as a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty to conduct uranium enrichment.

Meanwhile Wang said a meeting of senior foreign ministry officials of the Security Council's five permanent members and Germany in New York Monday aimed to "consider the next step of activities by the IAEA."

US Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, Nicholas Burns, and his counterparts from China, France, Russia and Britain, which are permanent members of the Security Council and have veto-wielding power, plus Germany, will attend the meeting, a State Department official said Thursday.

Germany is one of three European powers -- along with France and Britain -- which have pursued three years of inconclusive negotiations to persuade Tehran to renounce plans to seek nuclear weapons in exchange for economic incentives.

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