In intense, sometimes acrimonious, closed-door negotiations at the Vienna headquarters of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the "Euro 3" went through two revisions Thursday to move closer to the US position.
They went from talking merely about Iranian "failures" to comply to saying the IAEA "strongly deplores Iran's past breaches" of international nuclear safeguards agreements, according to a text shown to reporters.
The United States, which claims Iran is secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons, wants to declare the Islamic Republic in "non-compliance" with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a State Department spokesman said in Washington Thursday.
"Non-compliance" is the trigger-word for bringing the issue before the United Nations Security Council, which could impose sanctions.
Britain, France and Germany fear, however, that the threat of sanctions could push Iran to break off cooperation they have lobbied for that includes agreeing to snap inspections and suspending the enrichment of uranium.
Iran said Thursday that if EU countries fail to prevent Iran from being declared in non-compliance, Tehran will abandon commitments made to the IAEA.
"We must wait until tomorrow (Friday) to see if the Americans have succeeded in their attempts," Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi said in an Iranian IRNA news agency report about the meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei told reporters Thursday that Iran must be cited for violating nuclear non-proliferation agreements but must also receive credit for turning a new page.
He said he expected the board "to respond to the bad news and the good news.
"The bad news is that there have been failures and breaches (in Iranian respect for the NPT). The good news is their cooperation, a new chapter in our cooperation with Iraq," since the British, French and German foreign ministers visited Tehran on October 21 and signed an agreement on the Islamic Republic working with the IAEA, ElBaradei said.
He said he was sure the board would "respond adequately" to a report he filed last week that listed Iranian breaches in compliance during 18 years of hidden nuclear activities, including making small amounts of plutonium and enriched uranium, which can be materials for making the bomb.
But ElBaradei had said in the report there was no proof yet that Iran was secretly trying to make nuclear weapons, something Washington said was "simply impossible to believe."
Diplomats said the United States might be ready to compromise on naming the Security Council, but insisted on Iran being cited for non-compliance, although "breaches" could be accepted as a synonym for non-compliance.
The draft resolution Thursday said that if Iran continues to cooperate, the issue of its compliance should stay with the IAEA.
But should ElBaradei "report that there have been further significant failures, the board of governors would meet immediately and decide upon measures to be taken," the text said.
A diplomat said this formulation, however, was not enough since the term "significant failures" was vague.
"A failure is a failure," the diplomat said, stressing that the resolution should also unambiguously say when the matter would go to the Security Council.
Another diplomat said Britain, France and Germany were ready to say in a new text to be given to the IAEA board Friday that a "failure" by Iran to comply would mean the IAEA board would have to pass on the Iran dossier, although the Security Council would not be specifically mentioned.
The "Euro 3" are hoping this "trigger clause" will be enough to satisfy the Americans, the diplomat said.
A diplomat said even other European countries, especially the Netherlands, had told the Euro 3 their resolution was too weak.