What to do about Iran's disputed nuclear program is the big question of the week at the United Nations, although the Security Council has a full plate of other issues as well, ranging from dealing with Darfur to mission in Afghanistan, Burundi and Liberia.
It's almost two weeks now since the IAEA board of governors referred Iran to the Security Council and today senior diplomats from the P-5 nations plus Germany are meeting in New York, outside the U.N. framework, to try to resolve a deadlock over future strategy. All apparently agree that Iran should not develop nuclear weapons, but major differences still abound over how to achieve that goal.
What comes out of today's meeting of political directors in New York (including U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns) could help clear the way for a Security Council initial response to the crisis, but it seems unlikely to resolve the deep-seated reluctance by Russia and China (allies of Iran) to ramp up the pressure if Tehran does not agree to demands to stop enriching uranium. Additional discussions and talks are likely in the offing.
On Friday, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. John Bolton said Security Council members were closer to agreement on a possible council text that would, among other things, call for a report by the IAEA director on Iranian compliance with board demands regarding its nuclear program. The U.S., Britain and France had initially favored a 14-day time frame, but diplomats expect that could be lengthened as a concession. China's U.N. Ambassador Wang Guangya indicated his country (and possibly Russia since it is thought they are working together on this) could accept "at least 4 weeks to 6 weeks." Both nations have made it clear that they want the U.N.'s nuclear agency to play the lead in handling the Iranian crisis and the Security Council to "reinforce," but not take it over, from the IAEA. The U.S. says this is a test for the Security Council.
Meanwhile, the clock continues to tick and that 14-day progress report proposed nearly two weeks ago by the British has now effectively turned into a month. French Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere last Thursday stressed the urgency of the council reaching an agreement soon. He said "time is running out." Interestingly, the French mission to the U.N. gave background briefings to reporters last week on the technical aspects of the nuclear process.