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Talks Planned on Sanctions Against Iran

A senior U.S. official says getting a U.N. agreement on penalties will be difficult.

October 07, 2006|Paul Richter | Times Staff Writer

LONDON — The United States and five other world powers said Friday that they were "deeply disappointed" by Iran's refusal to halt its nuclear enrichment program and that they would begin discussing sanctions against Tehran at the United Nations.

The countries, which have jointly pursued a diplomatic solution to the standoff for 18 months, said after a meeting of foreign ministers here that they continued to hold out hope that the Iranian government would relent, suspend nuclear enrichment and accept a package of economic incentives they offered June 1.

A senior U.S. official described the decision to discuss sanctions as "a little bit of progress" but acknowledged that agreeing on penalties against Iran would be difficult. Yet the Americans, who have pressed for sanctions, insisted that it was significant that the six nations have held together.

In addition to the United States, the six are Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany. All but Germany are veto-wielding members of the U.N. Security Council.

The United States and Britain have been most eager for sanctions, and Russia and China most hesitant.

The statement approved at the meeting here refers only to possible economic sanctions and excludes military action.

R. Nicholas Burns, the undersecretary of State for policy, said that with the failure of the latest round of talks between Iranian officials and Javier Solana, the European Union foreign policy chief, "there's no question we have to proceed with sanctions."

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, talking to ZDF television after the meeting, said, "We have also agreed that if there is no new decision from inside the Iranian leadership, there is at present no alternative to having the Security Council deal with this conflict over the Iranian nuclear program."

Margaret Beckett, the British foreign secretary, told reporters that the group made the decision to discuss sanctions because "further pressure is required."

The sanctions, if approved, would be graduated, and would begin with restrictions aimed at Iran's nuclear industry. Crafting such sanctions would be complex and take some time in the best of circumstances, the senior U.S. official said. He said representatives of the group would be in touch Tuesday or Wednesday and take the issue to the U.N. on Thursday.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking to reporters, said world leaders had threatened so long to move to sanctions that to back away now would undermine their credibility.

"You can't extend deadline after deadline after deadline, because nobody will take the international system seriously," she said.

Rice recalled that the Security Council adopted a resolution in the summer signaling its intention to consider sanctions if Iran didn't suspend its nuclear enrichment.

"When you adopt U.N. Security Council resolutions, they're supposed to mean something," she said.

Rice almost missed the meeting because the military C-17 cargo plane on which she was traveling had an engine malfunction during a visit to Irbil, in northern Iraq's Kurdish region.

Sean McCormack, the chief State Department spokesman, said the plane, which had carried Rice from Baghdad for a visit with Kurdistan regional President Massoud Barzani, had developed a crack in a turbine. Officials summoned another plane, but it took longer to arrive than hoped, and U.S. officials waited in an airport visitor's terminal.

It wasn't the only travel snag on the trip. On Thursday, the C-17 ferrying Rice was forced to circle the Baghdad airport for about 45 minutes, delaying meetings with top Iraqi officials, because of mortar or rocket fire nearby.

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