The Bush administration failed on Friday to persuade its closest allies and other members of the International Atomic Energy Agency to increase diplomatic pressure on Iran, settling instead on another request that Tehran voluntarily drop its nuclear program.
A draft resolution, likely to be approved by the IAEA's 35-member board on Saturday, calls on Iran to suspend suspect nuclear work before the board meets again in late November. It also asks the Iranian government to provide U.N. inspectors with additional information about nuclear equipment and technology bought on the international black market.
Iranian officials said they had addressed some of the issues raised by the IAEA and were prepared to meet other requests.
For the past year, the U.S. government has been trying bring the Iranian nuclear issue to the agenda of the U.N. Security Council, arguing that Iran's government is hiding a nuclear weapons program. Bush administration officials had hoped the meeting this week would show progress on the issue before the November presidential election. But European and American diplomats said the negotiations produced more friction than consensus and said they were not sure the United States would have enough support from member countries to move the issue to the Security Council.
The U.S. negotiating team presented a draft resolution at the opening of talks on Monday that would have declared Iran in violation of the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The U.S. proposal also would have imposed a deadline of Oct. 31 for Iran to halt all nuclear activities. Failure to meet the deadline would have forced the issue to the Security Council by November.
The U.S. proposals were opposed by a group of influential members -- Britain, France, Germany, Canada, Australia, Russia and China. Those governments opted instead to give U.N. inspectors more time to investigate, and then make a final diplomatic effort to persuade Tehran to give up its nuclear ambitions.
Nevertheless, administration officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the three-page resolution was a victory, because it called on Iran to "immediately suspend all enrichment-related activities."
But the resolution does not declare Iran in violation of the Nonproliferation Treaty, nor does it repeat tough diplomatic language that appeared in a June resolution, in which the IAEA board characterized Iranian cooperation as deplorable. Mohamed ElBaradei, the IAEA director, complained at that time that Iran had failed to fully cooperate with the agency's investigation.
ElBaradei's most recent report gave the Iranians high marks for improved cooperation. But it warned Iran not to backtrack on ending any suspicious programs. IAEA inspectors have been investigating Iran's nuclear program for two years and have uncovered secret experiments and equipment. The Iranian government says they are part of a program to produce energy, not weapons.
An Iranian negotiator, Hoseyn Moussavian, noted that the resolution cited the legal right of all countries to develop a nuclear energy program. He said Iran would maintain suspension of its uranium enrichment efforts as a confidence-building measure.
John R. Bolton, the U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control, spent two days in sessions with his European counterparts before the opening of the IAEA board meeting last Monday. U.S. officials hoped for a consensus, but they said tensions instead had increased.
At one point, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw phoned Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and said British diplomats were having difficulty with newly named U.S. negotiators, officials said. The U.S. team is led by Ambassador Jackie W. Sanders, a close associate of Bolton's based in Geneva and in charge of arms control issues.
Diplomats said British, French and German negotiators overruled key language sought by the United States and disagreed with the United States on most details of the final resolution.