Iran Leaves Door Open For Nuclear Discussions

By Dafna Linzer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 13, 2005

Confronted with significant international pressure, Iran signaled yesterday that it was prepared to give negotiations a try before making a final decision about resuming its nuclear program and responded positively to a European offer of a meeting aimed at reducing tensions, U.S., European and Iranian diplomats said.

But the crisis over Iran's nuclear efforts was at a sensitive stage, and diplomats on both sides of the Atlantic said they were uncertain whether there was enough common ground for a meeting to take place between Iranian and European officials.

U.S. and European diplomats, who discussed the issue on the condition of anonymity, described clear red lines, saying the only way out of the escalation would be a retreat by Iran from plans to quickly restart a uranium-conversion facility at Isfahan.

If that does not happen, Prime Minister Tony Blair said yesterday, Britain will support U.S. efforts to involve the United Nations in the dispute.

"Let's wait and see what actually happens. But we certainly will support referral to the U.N. Security Council if Iran breaches its undertakings and obligations," he said.

Blair spoke at a news conference a day after the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany warned Iran in a letter that resumption of nuclear work would bring two years of negotiations among the parties to an end. "The consequences could only be negative for Iran," they wrote.

The contents of the letter reflected a tougher strategy by the Europeans, who are moving closer to the Bush administration's position.

Yesterday, U.S. officials said they welcomed the letter, while avoiding language that could inflame tensions.

"The Security Council always remains an option should the Iranians not live up to their obligations, but we are still hopeful that they will recognize where they are," Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in congressional testimony yesterday.

Away from cameras, U.S. officials began mapping scenarios for a possible emergency session of the International Atomic Energy Agency next week. A U.S. official involved in the policymaking, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the administration wants to have a strategy in place when British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw arrives in Washington for talks Tuesday.

Blair said that details still need to be worked out among allies but that diplomacy is the goal. "Nobody is talking about invasions of Iran or military action against Iran," he said.

The IAEA meeting will take place if Iran officially informs the agency that it plans to restart a uranium-conversion facility in the town of Isfahan.

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