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Countries Split Over Sanctioning Iran

Russia's foreign minister said Tuesday that referring Iran to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions was not the best way to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis, urging all nations involved to keep nonproliferation as their paramount goal.

The permanent members of the Security Council, the United States, Russia, France, Britain and China, agreed during a meeting in London on Monday that Iran must fully suspend its nuclear program, but differed over whether to refer the dispute for action by the council.

Russia and China have been under pressure from the United States and the European Union to support a move to refer Iran to the Security Council as a result of its decision earlier this month to restart its nuclear program. The Western allies fear Iran intends to build an atomic bomb, and Iran's new hard-line president's sharp anti-Israeli comments recently have only fueled their anxiety.

CBS News correspondent Richard Roth reports Iran's actions have pushed even its allies to have second thoughts about the country's nuclear ambitions, but there's no clear agreement on how to thwart them.

With a billion-dollar stake in Iran's atomic energy building program, Russia is eager to diffuse the crisis. So is China, Roth reports, which buys 300,000 barrels of Iranian oil a day.

"Sanctions are not the best or the only way to solve international problems," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told a news conference Tuesday. "Our common efforts should be aimed at getting answers to all the questions, without exception, which were posed by experts of the International Atomic Energy Agency."

Lavrov said that raising the prospect of sanctions was tantamount to "putting the cart before the horse."

"Our common goal is to ensure the inviolability of the nuclear nonproliferation regime," he said. "If we all strive for this main goal, we will be able to find a collective approach to solving this issue."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair's official spokesman said Tuesday that Britain remains open to a negotiated solution that would avoid referring Iran to the Security Council. The spokesman said Iran would have to abide by its international obligations to make any deal acceptable.

"Our ideal outcome is a diplomatic solution," the spokesman said on condition of anonymity in line with government policy. "A diplomatic solution has to mean that Iran abides by its international obligations. That is the test. If someone, if Iran, wants to come up with a solution that meets that test, fine. It does have to meet that test."

Diplomats in London announced plans Monday for an emergency meeting of the IAEA board of directors on Feb. 2-3. The 35-member board of the U.N. nuclear watchdog has the power to refer the issue to the Security Council.

The Interfax news agency reported that the Iranian Embassy in Moscow had circulated an Iranian Foreign Ministry statement saying Tehran invited the EU to return to negotiations but that the emergency IAEA session could lead to a new impasse.

Iran has said it would not bend before the threat of sanctions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday urged caution in dealing with the Iranian nuclear issue, saying Tehran might still agree to Moscow's offer to move Iran's uranium enrichment program to Russia — a step offered as a way to resolve the deadlock over Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

Iran's ambassador to Moscow, Gholamreza Ansari, said late Monday that Iran considered the proposal "constructive" and said Tehran was still considering it.

Israel planned to dispatch a top team to Russia on Tuesday in an attempt to get Russia to agree to refer Iran to the Security Council, the Haaretz newspaper reported on its Web site. The team would include National Security Chief Giora Eiland and the director of Israel's Atomic Energy Commission, Gideon Frank, Haaretz said.

China on Tuesday appealed for a negotiated settlement to the dispute, calling on Tehran to return to talks with Britain, France and Germany.

"We hope Iran can coordinate with the international community so as to resume negotiations through diplomatic means," said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan. "All parties should keep patience and do all they can to restore the negotiations between Iran and the three European Union countries."

Kong didn't respond directly when asked whether Beijing wanted to see the matter referred to the Security Council. China, a major buyer of Iranian oil, said earlier that taking the dispute to the council could worsen tensions.