The United States and other permanent members of the powerful U.N. body said Iran has had long enough to say whether it will meet the world's terms to open bargaining that would give Tehran economic and energy incentives in exchange for giving up suspicious activities.
"The Iranians have given no indication at all that they are ready to engage seriously on the substance of our proposals," French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said on behalf the United States, France, Britain, Russia and China, the five permanent Security Council members, plus Germany and the European Union.
Expressing "profound disappointment," the ministers said, "we have no choice but to return to the United Nations Security Council" and resume a course of possible punishment or coercion that the powers have set aside in hopes of reaching a deal.
Any real punishment or coercion at the Security Council is a long way off, but the group said it will seek an initial resolution requiring Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment.
"Iran has made clear that it needs until August to respond," reports CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk from the U.N., "but the permanent members of the Security Council, hoping for some positive sign before the Group of Eight meeting in Russia this weekend, are clearly losing patience because they expected some signal in response to what they considered a very generous package of incentives."
Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, the Bush administration's chief negotiator on the Iran issue, said the United States is pleased by what it called strong action by the Security Council group.
If Iran does not comply, the group said it would then seek harsher action. The group's short statement did not give any specifics, but it cited a section of the world body's charter that could open the door to economic or other sanctions.
"The threat to haul Iran back before the U.N. Security Council may move Iran off the mark — at least that appears to be the intention, since returning to the U.N. still holds no expectation of agreement," Falk adds.
Though Russia and China signed on to Wednesday's statement, the two traditional commercial partners of Iran have long stated their opposition to imposing the toughest of sanctions on Tehran.
The group said it could stop the Security Council actions at any time should Iran cooperate. The U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency has already told Iran it must put uranium enrichment and related disputed activities on hold, and doing so is the condition for opening negotiations on the incentives package presented to Iran last month.
If Iran agrees to the group's terms for negotiations, it would mean the first high-level face-to-face talks between the United States and Iran after more than a quarter century of estrangement.
this week to international incentives to suspend disputed portions of its nuclear program. The United States and other nations wanted an answer by Wednesday on whether Iran would meet terms to begin negotiations on a package of economic and energy incentives for Iran in exchange for at least the short-term end to Tehran's rapidly advancing program to enrich uranium.
"The indications are that Iran's response has been disappointing and incomplete," U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said during her flight to Paris.
The six countries had been pushing for an agreement before world leaders meet this weekend in Russia for the Group of Eight summit of leading industrial democracies.
Enrichment can produce fuel for a civilian reactor or fissile material for a bomb. The United States and its allies suspect Iran's nuclear program is cover for a weapons program, despite Tehran's repeated denials.
"If we go to the Security Council we'll take our time in terms of putting together the best response," to make sure Iran understands that it cannot continue to pursue enrichment while talks are ongoing, and that it also understands it can still choose to bargain, Rice said.
The Security Council would also make clear the consequences of rejecting the deal, Rice said.
That would put the United States, European allies and others back where they started last year, when Iran rejected a previous European offer and later resumed a broad program of nuclear research and development it had shuttered during earlier talks.
The Security Council has already delivered a mild rebuke to Iran. If its permanent, veto-holding members agreed, the council could move on to impose coercive or punitive measures. Those could include economic or political sanctions, financial or travel restrictions, or even an oil embargo. The toughest measures are unlikely to win approval from Russia and China, traditional commercial partners of Iran that hold vetoes.
Iran repeatedly has said it