U.S. officials are reporting rapid progress in talks among the major powers on a new U.N. Security Council resolution penalizing Iran for refusing to stop enriching uranium. An agreement among the council's permanent member countries on the main elements of a resolution is expected Saturday.
The first sanctions resolution approved in December required weeks of tough negotiations, but officials here say agreement is already near on the basics of a follow-on measure that will incrementally tighten the sanctions on Tehran.
At a news briefing, State Department Deputy spokesman Tom Casey said senior diplomats of the permanent council member states -- Russia, China, Britain, France and the United States -- made good progress on the pending measure in a telephone conference call Thursday.
Casey said they hope to be able to finalize agreement on the "elements" of a resolution in another telephone hook-up Saturday, enabling diplomats at the U.N. to begin work on a draft resolution early next week.
The spokesman would not discuss contents of the pending measure, but insisted the United States is not settling for a weak resolution in order to get a quick agreement:
"I think we want a resolution certainly as soon as possible, because I think it is important that the international community show that it is serious about continuing to apply diplomatic pressure on the Iranian regime for its failure to meet its obligations. But in terms of the substance, I do think this will be a substantive resolution."
Iran's refusal to freeze enrichment-related activities prompted the Security Council on December 23rd to impose sanctions targeting Iran's nuclear and missile programs.
Diplomats have said the follow-on measure could include travel bans on key Iranians, tighter controls of high-technology exports to Iran, and broader curbs on trade credits.
Spokesman Casey said the major powers are pursuing new sanctions with reluctance, and that a more desirable course is for Iran to halt enrichment and return to talks on its nuclear program:
"What we would have hoped to see was the Iranian government responding to the calls of the international community suspending its uranium-enrichment activities and engaging in negotiations. And even while we are moving forward with this next draft, the offer still remains on the table from the P5+1 and certainly Iran has the opportunity to take that up if it wants to meet those conditions."
The permanent Security Council member states and Germany last year offered Iran a wide range of incentives for dropping elements of its nuclear program believed weapons-related.
Iran insists its program is entirely peaceful but that pursuing enrichment and other aspects of the nuclear fuel cycle is its national right.