Western powers will reactivate efforts to punish Iran through possible U.N. Security Council sanctions unless it suspends uranium enrichment and agrees to talks on its nuclear program by July 12, diplomats said Monday.
The envoys - some of them senior U.N. diplomats, and all familiar with details of the six-nation drive to persuade Iran to compromise on its nuclear activities - spoke just two days before a key Iran-European Union meeting in Brussels meant to make clear to the Iranians that their time is running out.
On Wednesday, senior EU envoy Javier Solana will urge top Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani to commit his country immediately to suspending enrichment and starting negotiations, the diplomats said.
They also said Russia and China were closer than ever to supporting the West on U.N. Security Council action - including sanctions - if Tehran refuses the package of incentives meant to wean it off enrichment.
"We are looking forward to hear from Iran ... the official response," said Cristina Gallach, Solana's spokeswoman.
A European official outlined more realistic expectations, saying Larijani would likely come back with questions - and perhaps a counterproposal.
If so, the diplomats said, Solana plans to tell him Iran must accept the terms of the package by July 12, when foreign ministers of the five permanent Security Council nations and Germany consult in Paris.
"If Iran has not answered positively by this date, the ministers will likely adopt a decision to resume negotiations on the Security Council resolution," said one of the diplomats, who, like the European official, demanded anonymity in exchange for divulging the game plan on Iran.
The European official said Russia and China were contemplating sending high-level officials to Wednesday's meeting in a symbolic show of unity with the West.
Work on a U.N. Security Council resolution was suspended May 3 to allow the six powers to draw up a plan of perks if Iran agrees to a long-term moratorium on enrichment - or punishments that include the threat of selective U.N. sanctions if it doesn't. Solana last month presented the rewards to Larijani but made no mention of the punishments, so as not to rile Tehran.