Reuters: World powers said after a meeting on Wednesday they made progress but failed to reach a consensus on a package of incentives and threats to prevent Iran from being able to build a nuclear bomb. By Madeline Chambers
LONDON (Reuters) – World powers said after a meeting on Wednesday they made progress but failed to reach a consensus on a package of incentives and threats to prevent Iran from being able to build a nuclear bomb.
A spokesman for the U.S. State Department said Iran, which insisted on its right to a full range of nuclear technology, had recently sought bilateral talks with the United States but that Washington would stick to a multilateral approach.
Senior officials from U.N. Security Council permanent members China, Russia, the United States, France and Britain, plus Germany had met to try to narrow divisions over how to induce Tehran to halt sensitive uranium enrichment work.
After the meeting, Britain said it was encouraged by the progress and that officials would propose that foreign ministers should meet soon to take final decisions.
“Preparatory work will continue over the coming days,” said a spokesman for Britain’s Foreign Office.
Washington and some Western nations suspect Iran’s professed bid for nuclear power for its economy is a cover for efforts to develop an atomic bomb.
Serious differences have persisted between Washington and Moscow over U.S. demands that Iran face sanctions, resisted by Russia, if it continues to defy the international community.
The Islamic Republic says it is developing nuclear technology for civilian energy generation and Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad issued a defiant message repeating that.
“Using nuclear energy is Iran’s right,” Ahmadinejad told a rally in a speech broadcast live on state television.
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, in Washington for talks, said on Wednesday Iran’s nuclear ambitions posed “the test of our time” and urged swift international action to meet what he termed a threat to the existence of the Jewish state.
U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, speaking during a visit to Vietnam, said he had appealed to Iran “not to reject anything out of hand” that might emerge from the talks in London.
The final package is likely to include an offer of a light-water reactor and an assured supply from abroad of fuel for civilian atomic plants so Iran would not have to enrich uranium itself.
Uranium enriched to a low level is used as nuclear power plant fuel, a threshold Iran reached at its Natanz pilot plant in April. But if purified to a higher grade, uranium can set off the chain reaction that detonates atomic bombs.
The EU package will also warn of possible sanctions if Iran, the world’s fourth-biggest oil producer, refuses the offer.
Diplomats say they would first discuss targeted sanctions, such as visa bans on Iranian officials involved in the nuclear programme, before seeking ways of curtailing trade deals.
But some EU officials, many analysts and the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), say efforts to end the crisis would get a big boost if Washington began talking to Iran after 26 years of official silence.
They believe the only way to entice Iran back to good-faith negotiations and stop it seeking sensitive atomic know-how would be a U.S. pledge not to try to topple Tehran’s government, which the Bush administration has labelled ripe for “regime change”.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei was expected to tell Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in talks in Washington on Wednesday that direct U.S.-Iranian dialogue should be considered, said Vienna-based diplomats familiar with ElBaradei’s thinking.
They said it has become apparent in the last few weeks that Iran desires a dialogue with the United States. But Tehran cites a right to civilian atomic research and development under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and calls it non-negotiable.
Some diplomats suggested the Western position that there must be no enrichment activity in Iran would backfire.
“Insisting on zero will never take away the knowledge and capability Iran has gained, you will only force this underground. Is this what we want?” said one of the diplomats.
(Additional reporting by David Clarke, Edmund Blair in Tehran, Lou Charbonneau in Berlin, Tabassum Zakaria and Carol Giacomo in Washington and Mark Heinrich in Vienna)