The United Nations Security Council has given Iran 30 days to offer proof of its commitment not to develop nuclear weapons. With that step under their belt, the United States and Europe in particular now want to avoid seeing Tehran use that month as a cover for advancing further down a road of no return to the bomb.
That desire drove what Western officials called a "strategy session" in Berlin Thursday, where foreign ministers including Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice considered the question of how best to keep up international pressure on Iran.
The brief Berlin meeting resulted not so much in a "strategy" but in a reinforced show, after Wednesday's Security Council action, of international opposition to a nuclear-armed Iran.
The "EU 3" of the European Union - Britain, France, and Germany - plus the US, China, and Russia attended the session.
Europeans describe the month-long window before Iran is taken up again by the Security Council as an "opportunity" for Tehran to reverse course on uranium enrichment - a key step in the fuel cycle necessary for building a nuclear weapon - and return to international talks on its program.
But the US, dubious of Iran's intentions, plans to use the month to begin focusing international attention on Iran's role as what Washington considers the world's No. 1 state sponsor of international terrorism, diplomatic sources say.
The ministers would like to see Iran return to negotiations with the EU 3, which - before their collapse last August - were aimed at verifying that any Iranian nuclear program is for energy development only.
But the European powers in particular feel stung by Iran's pattern of using negotiations as cover for continuing clandestine nuclear development.
Iran is showing no signs of bending to the increased international pressure, rejecting the Security Council's call to freeze Iran's uranium enrichment program.
"It is impossible to go back to suspension," Tehran's representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Ali Asghar Saltanieh, told the Associated Press Thursday.
The Security Council on Wednesday ended three weeks of often deadlocked talks by approving a statement that asks the IAEA to report to the council within 30 days on Iran's compliance with demands that it suspend uranium enrichment.
The nonbinding statement is considerably weaker than the Europeans, backed by the US, had originally sought: It no longer calls Iran's program "a threat to international peace and security," wording that Russia and China feared would set the stage for eventual sanctions or other forceful action. In addition, the US had wanted to restrict Tehran's margin of maneuverability by demanding the IAEA report to the council within two weeks.
Still, US officials emphasize, the statement demonstrates unified international opposition to Iran's nuclear ambitions. "The international community is united," Secretary Rice said after the Berlin meeting.
The US also maintains that the action on a statement effectively keeps the Iran dossier open in the Security Council, where it wants it.
"We're prepared to be back here on the 31st day, given the Iranian record to date of consistently flouting the IAEA [and] attempting to obscure what they've done," said US Ambassador to the UN John Bolton after the statement's approval.
Speaking to reporters after the Berlin meeting, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier characterized the month-long window before Iran returns to the Security Council as a time of decision for Tehran. Insisting that Germany and the five permanent members of the Security Council still want a "diplomatic solution" to the dispute, he said Iran has a month to "make a choice between isolation ... or [to] seize the offer to resume negotiations."
Still, the Bush administration, which has recently labeled Iran the biggest single threat to American security, appears intent on raising the Iranian regime's profile as a purveyor of international terrorism.
"They are stepping up their accusations of Tehran as a state sponsor of international terrorism, and they have given us notice that that is what they will be doing," says one Western diplomat in Washington, who spoke condition of anonymity after private meetings with American national security officials.
But as Russian and Chinese resistance to the US position demonstrates, the US is starting on Iran from a position clouded by its prewar accusations against Iraq.
"They have a credibility problem after Iraq and things like the claims of weapons of mass destruction," says the diplomat, "so they have that burden to overcome."