VIENNA, Austria (AP) – The U.S. and its closest Western allies may soon call a vote on U.N. Security Council sanctions against Iran, even at the risk that Russia and China may abstain or veto the measures, officials said Sunday.

“They’re talking about a vote as soon as possible,” a U.S. official said of plans by the Americans, French and British. He and other diplomats and representatives of Western governments spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to divulge Western strategies on Iran.

The decision to risk a Russian and Chinese veto would reflect recognition by the five permanent Security Council members that they cannot agree on a common approach to dealing with concerns that Iran might be seeking to develop nuclear arms.

That would mean a serious setback to months of efforts by six world powers – the five permanent members plus Germany – to act in concert in getting Iran to freeze its uranium enrichment activities either, through enticements or the threat of punitive U.N. action.

In a fresh bid to win Russian and Chinese support, France and Britain circulated a revised U.N. resolution Friday narrowing proposed sanctions.

The new draft still would ban the supply of materials and technology that could contribute to Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, but it spells out in much greater detail what items are prohibited. Russia and China had complained that the proposed sanctions in the original draft were too broad.

The new draft keeps a travel ban and asset freeze on companies, individuals and organizations involved in Iran’s nuclear and missile programs, measures Russia opposes.

Russia and China, which have major commercial ties with Iran, have continued to push for dialogue instead of U.N. punishment, despite the collapse in October of an EU attempt to entice Iran into talks.

Russia proposed major changes to the original European text, including limiting sanctions to measures that would keep Iran from developing nuclear weapons and missiles. Russia also proposed eliminating any travel ban, asset freeze or mention of the nuclear facility being built by the Russians at Bushehr, Iran.

The new European draft drops all mention of Bushehr, which is projected to go on line in late 2007 and would be Iran’s first atomic power plant. It still would limit technical assistance to Iran by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, and urge countries to prevent Iranian students from studying nuclear-related disciplines.

A second U.S. official said the Russians now want even more concessions. He said Moscow was insisting that any resolution not mention tentative Russian plans to build a second reactor for the Iranians. As well, the Russians want to limit any sanctions to three months, after which they would be reviewed, the official said.

These and other demands were resulting in “a lot of frustration” within the Western camp, he said.

He said Washington was expecting “enough compromise to get it down to the level where the Russians (and Chinese) won’t veto.” But he acknowledged that the risk of rejection by the two countries could not be ruled out.

“If we cannot get an agreement on sanctions that are effective, we would want to table a resolution and take the chance of an abstention, or a veto,” he said.

Ambassadors from the six countries were expected to discuss the new draft early next week, possibly Monday.

Iran maintains its nuclear program is purely peaceful, aimed solely at producing nuclear energy, but the U.S. and the Europeans believe Tehran’s enrichment activities are ultimately aimed at producing nuclear weapons.

Reflecting fresh Iranian defiance of Security Council demands, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Saturday that his country had begun installing 3,000 uranium enriching centrifuges, which would give the program the capability to make fuel for power generation – or the fissile material for nuclear warheads.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.