By Louis Charbonneau
VIENNA - France, Britain and Germany have met a key U.S. demand by proposing a November deadline for Iran to dispel concern that it has a covert atom bomb programme, according to a draft resolution seen by Reuters.
But the draft does not order Tehran to be automatically reported to the U.N. Security Council if it does not meet the deadline, as Washington wishes.
Reuters was shown the draft, which will be revised before being formally submitted to the board of governors of the United Nations' International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The draft says the board will "probably" consider whether further steps are needed after receiving IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei's next report on Iran in November.
The IAEA has been investigating Tehran's nuclear programme ever since Iranian exiles reported in 2002 that Tehran was hiding a uranium enrichment plant and a heavy water facility.
Washington accuses Iran of developing nuclear weapons under cover of an atomic energy programme, a charge Iran vehemently denies. The IAEA has found many previously concealed nuclear activities in Iran but no "smoking gun" backing the U.S. view.
The United States had originally hoped that the IAEA board would report Iran next week to the U.N. Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions, for violating the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) by concealing potentially weapons-related activities for nearly two decades.
U.S. officials had been pushing the European Union's big three states to give up their strategy of trying to persuade Iran to abandon uranium enrichment and plutonium reprocessing, and get tough.
Washington wanted the Europeans to include a "trigger mechanism" in the text that would automatically require the IAEA board to report Iran to the Security Council in November.
But a Western diplomat who follows the IAEA said the draft stopped short of this by saying the board would probably consider further steps:
"It's something that allows the U.S. to say it has a trigger without locking the Europeans into any course of action in the event the IAEA is unable to report in November it is satisfied Iran doesn't have a weapons programme."
The draft makes no mention of the Security Council at all.
The compromise came out of talks between U.S. Under Secretary of State John Bolton and his counterparts from France, Britain and Germany in Geneva.
Iran's ambassador to the United Nations in Vienna was not immediately available for comment on the draft.