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Progress Seen on Iran and Darfur

But diplomatic talks at the U.N. fail to produce breakthroughs on either of the key issues.

September 21, 2006|Maggie Farley | Times Staff Writer

UNITED NATIONS — A flurry of diplomatic activity Wednesday produced progress, but no breakthroughs, on two key issues facing the U.N. Security Council: Iran and Sudan.

Officials from the U.S. and countries negotiating with Iran said they had set an early October deadline for Tehran to agree to suspend its nuclear program. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad indicated he was prepared to negotiate if there was "flexibility" on both sides, Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi said Wednesday in a written statement after meeting with the Iranian leader in New York.

But Prodi said divisions remained on the meaning of "suspending" the Iranian program. "Ahmadinejad insisted on Iran's right to go ahead in research in the nuclear field, and I insisted on the need for a complete halt in the military aspect of the research," he said.

When Iran resumed its uranium enrichment early this year, it said it was conducting research aimed at producing fuel for nuclear power plants, although the same process can produce material for a warhead.

The U.S., China, Britain, France, Russia and Germany agreed at a dinner Tuesday to give European Union negotiator Javier Solana more time to reach a diplomatic solution with Tehran before pushing for U.N. Security Council sanctions.

Under the proposal, Solana's talks would lead to negotiations involving Britain, France and Russia, with the United States joining if Tehran agreed to halt its enrichment activities.

A U.S.-Iran parley would be the highest-level direct diplomatic contact between the two nations since the 1979 Islamic Revolution and hostage crisis in Tehran. Iran has been seeking direct negotiation on the nuclear issue, an overture the Bush administration has rejected.

On the crisis in Sudan's Darfur region, the African Union announced it would extend the stay of its 7,000 troops there until the end of the year, instead of withdrawing at the end of the month, when its mandate expires. The force will need to be augmented to protect civilians facing renewed attacks and humanitarian crises, officials say.

But Sudan's government refuses to let 20,000 U.N. troops take over at the end of the year.

"It was a step back from the brink today," British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said.


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