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UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - Russia's foreign minister on Wednesday firmly rejected a draft U.N. Security Council statement aimed at pressuring Iran to stop enriching uranium, despite a new offer of amendments by Western powers.
The next step is likely to be bilateral contacts among ministers of the council's five veto-wielding permanent members, the United States, France, Britain, China and Russia, diplomats close to the talks said.
The five powers' U.N. ambassadors met again on Wednesday but failed to reach agreement on a draft council statement proposed by France and Britain, participants said.
Still, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in the Bahamas to meet with Caribbean community foreign ministers, said she was confident agreement would be reached on a plan for pressuring Iran into ending its enrichment activities that could produce fuel for a nuclear weapon.
"Sometimes diplomacy takes a little bit of time but we're working very hard on it," Rice told reporters. "We will come up with a vehicle, I am quite certain of that."
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in Beijing, "The draft includes points that effectively lay the groundwork for sanctions against Iran."
"We will hardly be able to support this version of the draft," he added, according to Moscow's Interfax news agency.
Lavrov said the draft text was "effectively aimed at removing the Iranian nuclear issue from the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency) agenda and referring it to the U.N. Security Council. It is wrong."
British U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry said earlier that amendments would be offered but only if there were a chance of success.
Russia, backed by China, wants to delete large sections of the draft statement the Security Council has been studying for nearly two weeks as a first reaction to Iran's nuclear research, which the West believes is a cover for bomb-making. Iran insists it wants only to produce electric power.
Both nations fear that involvement by the 15-member council, which can impose sanctions, could escalate and lead to punitive measures including possibly military action.
Moscow, diplomats said, opposes even the draft's request for a report to the council on Iran's compliance with the demands of the IAEA in Vienna, the U.N. nuclear watchdog. Russia wants the request to come from the IAEA board of governors, not the council, they said.
'A LOT OF WORK TO DO'
In New York, Moscow's U.N. ambassador, Andrei Denisov, said after the five met in New York that talks were continuing but "we still need some time to consult."
"There is still a lot of work to do," French U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de la Sabliere told reporters.
French and British diplomats say that if the impasse continues on the draft statement, which would require the unanimous approval of the 15-nation Security Council, they could switch to a resolution, which would need only a majority vote but could be vetoed by any permanent member.
A council resolution would carry more weight than a statement and such a switch in strategy would dare Russia and China to use their veto.
But a veto or an abstention from Moscow or Beijing would gravely undermine the council's message to Tehran that it must end activities that could lead to nuclear arms.
It could also obstruct, if not doom, future council efforts to ratchet up the pressure on Iran if it fails to heed the initial warning.
The United States, Britain and France have already started private talks on a follow-up resolution that would declare Iran's nuclear program to be a threat to international peace and security and warn of unspecified "measures" if it failed to shut the program down.
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