China and Russia, longtime allies and trading partners of Iran, signed on to a statement that calls on the U.N. nuclear watchdog to transfer the Iran dossier to the Security Council, which could impose sanctions or take other harsh action.
Foreign ministers from those nations, plus the United States, Britain and France, also said the Security Council should wait until March to take up the Iran case, after a formal report on Tehran's activities from the watchdog agency.
"What this does is give the Iranians a chance to stop the uranium enrichment and stop developing the bomb," said CBS News Foreign Affairs Analyst Pam Falk. "No one feels comfortable about Iran being a nuclear power."
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other foreign ministers discussed Iran at a private dinner at the home of British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw. After the four-hour meeting, which spilled over into the early hours Tuesday, a joint statement called on the International Atomic Energy Agency to report the Iran case when it meets in Vienna on Thursday.
Foreign ministers from Germany and the European Union also attended the dinner and agreed to what amounted to a compromise — take the case to the Security Council but allow a short breather before the council must undertake what could be a divisive debate.
The group agreed that the IAEA "should report to the Security Council its decision on the steps required of Iran, and should also report to the Security Council all IAEA reports as resolutions as adopted relating to this issue," a statement from the group said.
The IAEA has already found Iran in violation of nuclear obligations and issued a stern warning to Tehran in September. Thursday's vote would be the next step, one long sought by the United States.
Iran insists its nuclear program is intended only to produce electricity. The United States and some allies say Iran is hiding ambitions to build a nuclear bomb, but the Security Council members have been divided about how strong a line to take.
It is still not clear how Russia and China would vote if the questions of sanctions came before the Security Council. It is also not clear that the United States will win the broad international consensus it seeks when the IAEA votes.