Reuters: Major powers sought to narrow differences over sanctions against Iran on Friday as a new deadline ticked away for that country to agree to suspend sensitive nuclear work. By Carol Giacomo and Sue Pleming
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – Major powers sought to narrow differences over sanctions against Iran on Friday as a new deadline ticked away for that country to agree to suspend sensitive nuclear work.
U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said there were still differences among the major powers on what sanctions would be imposed if Iran failed to halt uranium enrichment as the U.N. Security Council has demanded.
Senior officials of the United States, France, Russia, China, Britain, Germany and the European Union were meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, U.S officials said.
No decision was expected on Friday but officials hoped to make progress in narrowing differences, Burns told reporters.
Later, foreign ministers were to discuss the nuclear standoff at a meeting of the Group of Eight industrial countries, which includes Italy, Japan and Canada.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “I have great confidence that everyone is committed to both the letter and the spirit of Resolution 1696 which insists that if Iran is not willing to suspend its nuclear activities and enter into negotiations, then we will have Security Council action” on sanctions.
“I am absolutely certain of that and we will do so. We want to give diplomacy its best chance but I can assure you that time is not endless,” she told reporters.
The six major powers made a proposal in June for economic, technological and political cooperation if Iran halted work the West suspects is designed to produce atomic weapons, but Tehran insists is for electricity generation.
After Iran ignored a U.N. deadline to halt enrichment by August 31, major power foreign ministers agreed this week to give their negotiator, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, until early October to reach a deal with Tehran on starting talks, diplomats said.
They have threatened to impose graduated sanctions, beginning with travel and financial restrictions on officials and agencies involved in the nuclear program, if Iran persists in its work.
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Russia and China have resisted sanctions and the Europeans have urged Washington to give negotiations more time to work.
“I call upon Iran to end the current phase of procrastination,” German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly.
While no one wanted to deny Iran peaceful nuclear energy, he said, “It is now up to the government in Tehran to face up to its responsibility.”
After previously rejecting bargaining away the enrichment program, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a news conference this week, “Under fair conditions and just conditions we will negotiate about it.”
But Burns said: “It’s hard to say if there was any opening. There must be full suspension,” verified by the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency.
Solana had planned to hold critical talks with chief Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani in New York this week, but Larijani never showed up, marking the fourth such postponement.
Iranian and European officials say the two negotiators are now expected to meet in an unspecified European city next week.
John Bolton, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, could not resist a dig, saying, “At this point, Javier Solana is looking to find out where Larijani is.
“Time works for the Iranian side, to allow them to make progress, to perfect all of the various aspects of the work they need to complete the nuclear fuel cycle,” Bolton told reporters.
(Additional reporting by Irwin Arieff)