UNITED NATIONS -- "If there is a lesson learned from North Korea, it is that we have to stop these countries before they get the bomb," a U.N. official said Wednesday, as talks on disarming North Korea were under way in Beijing. "But how do you stop a country from reaching that point?"
The United States is pushing for the International Atomic Energy Agency to declare Iran in noncompliance of its treaty agreements at the organization's 35-nation board meeting Sept. 8 -- the first step toward harsher sanctions.
The confidential U.N. report, which details new evidence of the presence of the weapons-grade material in Iran and several reversals of position by officials there, has added momentum to the effort. The European Union and others may now be convinced that there is "a pattern of noncompliance," a Western diplomat said.
"We need to strengthen the IAEA's hand by reporting the pattern to the Security Council and pressing Iran to cooperate more fully," he said.
Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said Thursday that the country was ready to start talks on an additional protocol to the treaty, allowing surprise inspections of any nuclear facility.
"We do not have enriched uranium and we do not have a program to develop nuclear weapons," he told CNN from Japan during a trip to discuss the development of oil fields in Iran.
While U.S. and IAEA officials welcome the step, some worry that talks could drag out at a time when experts are saying Iran may be between one and three years away from developing a nuclear weapon.
But if Iran does not prove to be immediately accommodating, the Security Council could levy tough economic and diplomatic sanctions, ban all nuclear assistance to Iran and even call for the return of all nuclear equipment received from other countries.
Many countries are still not convinced that Iran is pursuing nuclear weapons, diplomats said. Russia, China and about 10 developing nations on the IAEA's board are focusing instead on parts of the report that note Iran has been more cooperative recently.
In the meantime, an analysis of another set of nuclear samples due to be completed in October may provide definitive proof whether Iran has enriched uranium for weapons purposes.