By Dafna Linzer
A meeting yesterday between European and Iranian officials over Tehran's suspect nuclear program ended with the sides agreeing to continue discussions, but Secretary of State Colin L. Powell said it is increasingly likely the matter will have to be brought to the U.N. Security Council.
The Paris meeting, attended by French, German and British diplomats, was the first since Iran resumed nuclear work in June that it had promised to suspend 18 months earlier in exchange for European trade incentives.
The three European powers, trying to defuse a standoff over Iran's nuclear efforts, want Tehran to work with U.N. nuclear inspectors and halt activities that could lead to weapons development.
"The discussions are continuing with Iranian authorities toward obtaining all the guarantees relative to the peaceful nature of the Iranian nuclear program," said Herve Ladsous, spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry. He said the meeting was aimed at reestablishing trust between the sides.
But Powell, traveling in Kuwait yesterday, made it clear that the United States believes Iran is concealing its true intentions and suggested the European efforts were unlikely to succeed. "It is getting more and more likely that this matter is going to have to be referred to the Security Council," Powell said.
"It is our judgment that Iran is developing a nuclear weapon," Powell said. "The world has to take note of this."
The secretary talked by phone with his German, French and British counterparts ahead of the meeting, which had been scheduled for London and then moved to Paris.
European diplomats, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said both Washington and Moscow would be briefed on the outcome of the discussion.
The Bush administration wants Iran rebuked by the Security Council for violating the Non-Proliferation Treaty and has been pressuring allies to take a harder line with the Islamic republic.
In June, the Europeans crafted a condemnation of Iran for failing to fully cooperate with international inspectors. But Iran responded by breaking its commitments to halt certain nuclear efforts.
A European diplomat, who spoke ahead of yesterday's meeting, did not discount the possibility of going to the Security Council but said that currently appears remote. "All different scenarios are in play, but the goal is to try to convince Iran to come back to the process."
Since June, Iran has resumed building centrifuge parts and is conducting tests at an enrichment facility. But the activities, which Iran is allowed to carry out for peaceful purposes, are being done under the eye of nuclear inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency who have been trying to determine whether the country has a clandestine weapons program.
Iran has denied it is intending to build a nuclear bomb, but in recent months inspectors have turned up inconsistencies in Iran's claims and have found evidence suggesting research in the area of nuclear weapons development.
Iran's foreign minister, Kamal Kharrazi, told reporters in Tehran yesterday that "Iran's right to peaceful nuclear technology should be respected."
"We have started a process of cooperating with the E.U. and the IAEA and are determined to continue that," he said.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the United States would decide whether to bring up Iran in the Security Council after the IAEA's 35-member board of governors meets in September.
"This is a subject that not only concerns us but is bothersome and troubling to the other members of the board of governors," Ereli said.
Noting pressure from Washington and a U.N. report on Iran's activities due in September, one European diplomat said: "This is a critical moment, and we think it's a kind of turning point. The ball is in Iran's camp right now, and they should take careful steps to cooperate with inspectors."