Reuters: Major powers are considering a joint meeting with Iran next week that excludes the United States as a way of bridging a divide over its nuclear program, U.S. and European diplomats said on Saturday. By Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Major powers are considering a joint meeting with Iran next week that excludes the United States as a way of bridging a divide over its nuclear program, U.S. and European diplomats said on Saturday.
They described the planning as extremely fluid and unlikely to result in any firm decisions until key officials confer in New York Sunday and Monday on the fringes of the annual meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.
Concerns about Iran’s nuclear program are expected to be a major focus of this year’s General Assembly and multiple meetings and speeches on the subject are likely.
The question is “whether there could be a meeting — not necessarily with the United States — that would allow the Iranians to say there was a process of negotiations that had started and as result of this, they decided to resume the suspension of uranium enrichment,” one diplomat said.
“The pressure is mounting for it to happen next week. That’s an obvious opportunity,” he added, speaking on condition of anonymity.
U.S. officials told Reuters an idea for such a meeting, possibly at the level of foreign ministers, had been raised but they were cautious about whether it might occur and produce results. “I’m not really sure” if it will take place, a senior U.S. official said of the proposed meeting.
The official said they would know more Sunday or Monday after they get to New York and hear the results of talks between European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani.
The U.N. Security Council demanded Iran suspend uranium enrichment as a condition for opening talks on a package of incentives including civil nuclear cooperation, and threatened sanctions if Tehran did not.
Iran ignored an August 31 U.N. deadline for the suspension but President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad struck a softer tone on Thursday, saying Iran was ready for “new conditions.”
Washington is pushing for major powers to ready sanctions against Iran if there is no breakthrough soon. But Russia, China and a number of European nations are hesitant about such penalties and want to give dialogue with Tehran more time.
While Solana did not offer details of his talks with Larijani, France confirmed Larijani told Solana in Vienna last weekend Tehran was ready to discuss suspending its uranium enrichment program.
But Iranian officials have indicated they could only discuss enrichment suspension once negotiations begin.
The major powers had said they would only hold negotiations after the suspension is declared and verified but the United States, which has had no diplomatic relations with Iran since after the 1979 Islamic revolution, has been most insistent on this point.
To break this logjam may “require to have others, including Britain, France and Germany, sit down at a senior level” with the Iranians next week, a European diplomat said.
President Bush raised concerns on Friday that Iran was playing for time in the nuclear dispute. “This is all theater. The Iranians have to do something” concrete, another senior U.S. official said.