Key nations trying to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions are hoping Tehran will agree quickly to suspend uranium enrichment and return to negotiations, but they are planning for sanctions if it does not, diplomats said.
Russia, the US, Britain, France, Germany and China are pressing for a meeting next week of top negotiators from both sides and hoping for an answer from Iran. Senior diplomats from the six nations met on Friday to discuss what sanctions should be imposed on Tehran if it refuses to suspend its enrichment program, US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said.
Oil-rich Iran says it needs uranium enrichment to produce fuel for nuclear reactors that would generate electricity and insists its program is peaceful.
Enrichment can also create material for atomic bombs, however, and the US and other nations suspect that is Tehran's real goal.
The UN Security Council set an Aug. 31 deadline for Iran to suspend enrichment or face mild initial sanctions. It urged the Iranian government to respond positively to a package of incentives put forward in June by the six parties. Iran responded in a lengthy document that raised many questions.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters in New York that she was confident that "everybody is committed" to the provisions of the resolution.
"If Iran is not willing to suspend ... its enrichment and reprocessing activities and enter negotiations, then we will have Security Council action under Article 41 Chapter 7," she said, referring to the article for 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 the time is not endless."
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said the six parties let the deadline slip after the EU's foreign policy chief Javier Solana described his initial meeting with Iran's top negotiator Ali Larijani as "constructive."
The parties had expected Solana and Larijani to meet this week on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly's ministerial meeting, but the Iranian negotiator never made it to New York. Douste-Blazy said no specific date was set for a Solana-Larijani meeting, but "we do hope for next week, and I hope the beginning of next week."
US Ambassador John Bolton said Solana "is looking to find out where Larijani is, and then see if they can agree on a mutually convenient great city of Europe where they can meet."
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