Six powers seeking new sanctions against Iran hoped to persuade all 15 nations on the U.N. Security Council to back the proposed punitive measures.
France's U.N. Ambassador Jean-Marc de La Sabliere said that ``a large majority'' of the nations support the resolution drawn up by the United States and its European allies - Britain, France and Germany - along with Russia and China.
``I think we will be in a position to make some concrete proposals and changes in order to reach a unanimous Security Council,'' he said after talks late Wednesday in New York. The full council was scheduled to meet again late Thursday.
Full agreement is important because it would give the vote more weight.
The six nations fear Tehran wants enriched uranium to make nuclear weapons and have demanded it cease production. Iran has ignored them, despite the Security Council's first set of sanctions in December.
Iran's top leader said Wednesday that his country will respond with ``illegal actions'' if the council imposes still more sanctions.
``Until today, what we have done has been in accordance with international regulations,'' Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said. ``But if they take illegal actions, we too can take illegal actions and will do so.''
He did not elaborate on what those actions might be, but Iran is a signatory to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty under which U.N. nuclear officials inspect its facilities. Some lawmakers and clerics have urged the government to respond to sanctions by withdrawing from the treaty.
Iran says it will never give up its right under the treaty to enrich uranium, insisting it needs alternative energy sources for when its oil reserves run out. The process can produce fuel for a reactor or fissile material for a nuclear warhead.
``If they want to treat us with threats and enforcement of coercion and violence, undoubtedly they must know that the Iranian nation and authorities will use all their capacities to strike enemies that attack,'' Khamenei said in a speech marking the start of the Persian New Year.
The latest sanctions would ban Iranian arms exports and freeze the assets of 28 additional individuals and organizations involved in the country's nuclear and missile programs.
The package also calls for travel restrictions on people subject to sanctions, on arms sales to Iran, and on new financial assistance or loans to the Iranian government.
The existing sanctions ban countries from providing Iran with materials and technology that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programs, and freeze assets of 10 key Iranian companies and 12 individuals related to those programs.
The U.S., Britain and France are hoping for a vote by the end of the week, but that could be difficult. South Africa, which holds the rotating Security Council presidency, wants extensive changes - including eliminating the arms embargo - and a 90-day hiatus on all sanctions.
The U.S. and its allies made clear Wednesday they would not agree to South Africa's proposed ``time-out,'' a suggestion Britain's U.N. Ambassador Emyr Jones Parry called ``totally perverse.''
Acting U.S. Ambassador Alejandro Wolff indicated Washington also would reject a request by Indonesia and Qatar for the resolution to call for a nuclear-free Middle East, as that implicates Israel.
But Russia's U.N. envoy, Vitaly Churkin, said Moscow regarded the Indonesian and Qatar proposals ``positively.''
``I think there is general understanding in the Security Council that unanimity is going to be very important,'' Churkin said.
In a related development, European and U.S. officials who declined to be named said Tuesday that Moscow has told Tehran it would not ship fuel for the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power plant in southern Iran until Tehran freezes uranium enrichment.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov denied that Wednesday.
``It's not the first time that we are seeing such an unscrupulous approach aimed at driving a wedge between us and Iran,'' he told lawmakers in the lower house of parliament.
Russia has said plans to supply fuel for Bushehr this month were called off because of the failure of Iran to make its payments.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has asked to speak to the Security Council just before it votes.
In his own New Year's address, he accused world's powers of waging ``psychological warfare ... to block our nation's progress.''
Iran has offered to provide guarantees that its nuclear program won't be diverted toward weapons.
North Korean negotiators walked out of nuclear disarmament talks today, leaving no prospect of a return unless $25m (ï¿½12.7m) of frozen funds are remitted into their country's bank accounts.
The sudden breakdown, which was blamed on bank paperwork and broken financial promises, is the latest hitch in a stop-start process aimed at easing one of the world's last cold war conflicts.
Hopes for a resolution rose last month when North Korea agreed to shut its nuclear reactor in return for energy aid from the US and South Korea.
But this week's six-nation talks - which were supposed to determine the next steps each party needs to take - failed to get off the ground because of a lingering dispute over North Korean funds locked in a Macau bank.
In 2005 the US froze the accounts at the Banco Delta Asia after suspicions of money laundering. The release of the money was a precondition for the current round of talks, but the transfers have not been made as promised.
Although the sum is relatively small, its return is a matter of principle for North Korea, whose chief negotiator, Kim Kye Gwan, flew back to Pyongyang this evening after two days of refusing to participate in talks.
The Chinese hosts blamed the hold-up on a technicality. Transferring the money from Macau to the mainland's Bank of China has proved more complex than anticipated.
"The difficulty of this issue is beyond our expectations and due to some technical and procedural issues we had not expected completely before," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Liu Jianchao told a news conference.
Frustrated American and Japanese delegates said it was unclear how long the hiatus would last.
"The day I'm able to explain to you North Korean thinking is probably the day I've been in this process too long," said Christopher Hill, the chief US envoy.
1. Final Dismantlement Work Completed on Two Major Nuclear Weapons Systems
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Continuing its efforts to reduce the size of the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile, the Department of Energyï¿½s National Nuclear Security Administration (NNSA) announced that uranium components from two major nuclear weapons systems formerly deployed on U.S. Air Force missiles and aircraft have been dismantled at the Y-12 National Security Complex in Oak Ridge, TN.
Y-12 workers successfully dismantled the last remaining piece of the W56, a nuclear warhead associated with the Minuteman II Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, and also completed the dismantling of two modifications of the B61, a strategic nuclear bomb.
ï¿½The President is committed to having the smallest nuclear weapons stockpile necessary for national security needs. The final dismantlement of these two types of Cold War-era weapons components clearly demonstrates our dedication to reducing the size of the nuclear stockpile,ï¿½ said Thomas P. Dï¿½Agostino, NNSAï¿½s acting administrator.
In 2004, President Bush directed that the size of the nuclear weapons stockpile be reduced nearly 50 percent by 2012, which would result in the smallest stockpile since the Eisenhower administration. NNSAï¿½s work to dismantle nuclear weapons is planned to increase by nearly 50 percent from fiscal year 2006 to fiscal year 2007.
Because of the Presidentï¿½s direction to reduce the stockpile, Y-12 was faced with the difficult task of dramatically increasing its component dismantlement rate in order to meet NNSAï¿½s overall dismantlement of retired weapons. By redesigning and streamlining its dismantlement process and redefining procedures and requirements, Y 12 has significantly increased its pace and rate of dismantlement activities.
ï¿½These two achievements mark the first time in recent history that Y-12 has dismantled multiple nuclear weapons components in the same fiscal year ï¿½ this is a tremendous achievement and one that Y-12 should be proud of,ï¿½ said Dï¿½Agostino. ï¿½It is important that we take apart and safely dispose of the weapons that we donï¿½t need any more. Dismantlements help us to reduce security and storage costs.ï¿½
Safely dismantling nuclear weapons is a key part of NNSAï¿½s national security mission. The work is first performed at NNSAï¿½s Pantex Plant to separate the high explosives from the special nuclear material. Y-12ï¿½s role is to finish the process by dismantling the uranium components and processing the resulting material.
The dismantlement process includes four steps: retiring a weapon from active or inactive service; returning and storing it; taking it apart by physically separating the high explosives from the special nuclear material; and processing the resulting material and components, which includes demilitarization, reuse, declassification, recycling, and ultimate disposal.
Pakistan successfully tested on Thursday a nuclear-capable cruise missile with a range of 700 km (435 miles), the military said in a statement.
The Hatf V11 Babur missile is a terrain-hugging, radar avoiding cruise missile capable of carrying a variety of warheads including nuclear, it said.
"The flight data collected validated the design parameters set for the flight test," the military said. "It is a highly maneuverable missile with pin-point accuracy."
The missile was first tested in 2005. Since then, its range has been enhanced to 700 km, from 500 km previously, the military said, although it did not say how.
President Pervez Musharraf and Prime Minister Shaukat Aziz had congratulated scientists and engineers involved and assured them of complete support in development plans of all strategic projects, the military said.
Pakistan's old rival India has cruise missiles that can be launched from a submarine.
The neighbors, who have fought three wars since 1947, both tested nuclear devices in 1998. Their relations have improved since they launched a peace process in 2004.
1. Russiaï¿½s FM Urges U.S. to Hold Broader Consultations on Missile Defense in Europe
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Russia's foreign minister on Wednesday urged the United States to hold broader consultations with Moscow on its plan to deploy missile defense elements in Europe and warned that Moscow would defend its interests on former Soviet territories.
While Sergey Lavrov reaffirmed Moscow's criticism of the U.S. intention to deploy a missile defense radar in the Czech Republic and missile interceptors in Poland, his statement sounded less defiant compared to earlier comments by Russian officials.
"We are underlining the need to jointly resolve the issue," Lavrov said, adding that Russian military experts would like to meet with their U.S. counterparts to discuss Moscow's concerns about the U.S. missile defense plans. "We expect that our proposals will be heard."
President Vladimir Putin said last month that he doesn't believe U.S. claims that missile defense sites in Europe were intended to counter a potential missile threat from Iran and pledged to take countermeasures. He also bluntly assailed U.S. foreign policy, accusing Washington of unrestrained use of force worldwide.
Lavrov said that the U.S. plans to deploy missile defenses in Poland and the Czech Republic reflected "an old approach when our American colleagues decided something and then implemented their decisions proceeding from the assumption that others will have to accept something that has already happened."
"That's an old approach used during the Cold War times, when the Soviet threat was used as a way to achieve unity," Lavrov said. "We are facing the same threats now, and the Soviet Union no longer exists."
He added that Russian military experts want to have a "professional talk" with the United States to present their views on ways of neutralizing potential missile threats "in more efficient ways that wouldn't pose a threat to Russia."
Lavrov also accused unspecified forces of trying to circumvent Russia in the post-Soviet nations - an apparent hint at the United States.
"Some are trying to push Russia into some kind of sticky rivalry, if not an open confrontation," Lavrov said. "We aren't going to yield to provocations. Our policy is transparent and we see no reason for any suspicions about our intentions in the region."
Russian officials in the past have accused Washington of trying to expand its clout in Russia's ex-Soviet neighbors and accused the United States of supporting massive protests that helped bring Western-leaning government to power in Georgia and Ukraine.
Lavrov acknowledged that the Commonwealth of Independent States, a Russia-dominated grouping of ex-Soviet nations, has failed to achieve its ambitious goals but added that Moscow would continue efforts to boost economic and other ties with its neighbors.
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