The United States and France jointly warned Iran Friday that it continues to face the danger of referral to the U.N. Security Council if it does not quickly end a boycott of negotiations on its nuclear program.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on Iran to return to the talks and negotiate in good faith. "But one thing that is very clear is the Security Council is an option," she said at a joint news conference with France's Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy.
Rice also met with President Jacques Chirac in Paris, then flew to Moscow for hastily organized talks with President Vladimir Putin on Saturday. Her main focus in both capitals is international attempts to ensure that Iran's peaceful nuclear energy program is not used to develop nuclear weapons.
Douste-Blazy said that foreign governments need to "stand firm and be strict" in insisting on suspension of Iranian programs to enrich uranium, which can then be used in nuclear weapons.
The meetings come as the United States, its European allies and Russia are trying to come to a common understanding on two issues concerning Iran.
The first is what specific action by Iran will constitute crossing a so-called "line in the sand," a threshold between an acceptable energy program and an illegal weapons production. Interpretations vary in technical but significant ways.
The second is what punitive action Iran's international critics could take if the country fails to comply. U.S. officials have been tight-lipped about the specifics of Rice's talks.
The meetings in Russia were added at the last minute to Rice's weeklong swing through Central Asia and Europe, which will also take her to London on Sunday. Moscow has enormous leverage because Russia built Iran's first nuclear reactor for energy and is providing fuel.
France and Britain are two of the three European countries in charge of negotiating with Iran. Germany, the third, is in the throes of forming a new government after recent elections.
The International Atomic Energy Agency is due to meet in five weeks to review the Iran situation. A next step could be to take the country to the Security Council, although what punitive action it might take, if any, is not known.
President Bush is due to meet Putin next month at a summit of Asia and Pacific Rim countries in South Korea, shortly before the IAEA meets again. The United States would like to first establish basic common ground with Russia on Iran, said U.S. officials.
The new Iranian government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said this week that it was prepared to resume "unconditional negotiations" with the three European countries.
Iran has flip-flopped several times since agreeing in 2003 to talk with the three European governments, U.S. officials said. Negotiations collapsed again in August when the new Iranian government rejected proposals requiring it to abandon uranium enrichment.
In a sign that avian flu has become a diplomatic issue, Rice also talked in Paris about how governments might cooperate against the virus, which was detected this week in birds in Turkey and Romania. "We believe firmly that there has to be complete transparency about what is going on with avian flu," she said. "The world should not be caught unawares by a very dangerous pandemic because countries refuse to share information."