The two holdouts, not surprisingly, have been Russia and China. While officials from the two nations have agreed in principle that Iran must not be allowed to develop nuclear weapons and expressed some frustration with Iran's intransigence, they have both been reluctant to act too forcefully or quickly against Tehran. According to U.S. officials, since last Friday, in a series of meetings in New York among the veto-wielding "permanent five" members of the Security Councilthe U.S., Great Britain, France, Russia and Chinathe Russians have pushed for changes in the French-British draft that are, one U.S. official complains, "designed to gut the proposed statement." In particular, one source says, Russia is opposing setting a short deadline for Iranís compliance and is trying to move the issue out of the Security Council and back to the less potent IAEA board.
"Theyíre afraid that a tough measure [will provoke] Iran into an irrational reaction" that would spur the West to demand global economic sanctions," says the U.S. official. The Russians, he says, "are not ready for sanctions. They want to buy time, stretch the process out." But no one is making it easy on them. In addition to Rice's entreaty, U.S. Ambassasdor to Russia William Burns paid a call Tuesday on Lavrov, and, according to the Interfax News Agency, French foreign minister Philippe Douste-Blazy also telephoned him.
The U.S. and its Western European allies arenít ready to discuss economic sanctions. But officials say some diplomats have begun talking quietly to one another and to other countries about where they might squeeze their commercial relations with Iran to force the Islamist regime to suspend its research on uranium enrichment and other techologies essential to constructing a bomb.
The backroom wrangling about the wording of the Security Council statement will intensify next Monday when Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns and his counterparts from the other Permanent Members of the Security Council plus Germany convene in Manhattan. As she did with Lavrov, Rice is expected to weigh in with her peers from the other countries, but it is possible that the Iran diplomacy may reach even higher levels of government. If it becomes necessary, says one U.S. official, President Bush himself could place a call or two to Moscow and Beijing.