Six Powers Agree to Take Next Step on Iran

By Robin Wright
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 7, 2006

LONDON, Oct. 6 -- The United States and five other major powers agreed Friday to take the next step toward imposing sanctions on Iran for failing to comply with a U.N. resolution to prevent it from subverting its nuclear energy program to develop a nuclear weapon, according to U.S. and European officials.

But in response to Russian and Chinese wariness about the impact and effectiveness of sanctions, the group also agreed to keep the door open to diplomacy, the officials said. The chief negotiator will remain available for talks if Iran chooses to come to the table and suspend its uranium enrichment program. As soon as Iran suspends enrichment, any U.N. sanctions would also be suspended, they said.

The package of economic, technological, scientific and diplomatic incentives already offered to Iran to surrender control over its fuel cycle -- but not its peaceful energy program -- will still be on offer if the Islamic republic changes its position, Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns said.

The agreement came at the conclusion of talks hosted by Britain and attended by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and top diplomats from France, Russia, China and Germany. But after a dramatic buildup all week to a possible turning point following the collapse of European negotiations with Iran, the tone and scope of the agreement appeared significantly milder than anticipated.

The timing of the talks and the wording of the agreement were affected by mechanical problems delaying Rice's arrival in London from Iraq. The military plane ferrying Rice got stuck in the northern Iraqi city of Irbil, the last stop on her five-day Middle East tour, and she attended only the last 45 minutes of the six-nation talks that she had pressed the hardest to hold.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy described the new international goal as "proportionate and reversible sanctions." U.S. officials said they viewed the agreement on sanctions as a tactic to try to force Iran to return to negotiations.

En route to London, Rice said sanctions would be aimed at convincing Iran that returning to the table was "the best strategy here. Nobody wants to have [sanctions] just to have them. The hope would be that the Iranians recognize that increasing isolation from the international system is not good for Iran or for the people of Iran."

The general agreement comes after years of controversial diplomacy, including a period when Iran suspended enrichment of uranium, only to resume after hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was inaugurated in August 2005. Since then, Iran has missed at least two deadlines, including one set for Aug. 31 by the United Nations, to comply with demands that it halt enrichment.

"The extra innings are over. We're on to a new phase," Burns said. "We have no alternative but to proceed" and raise the cost for Iran's "irresponsible attitude."

Iran, he added, is missing a "major opportunity" in rejecting the package of incentives, particularly the opportunity for the first formal talks with the United States since relations were broken in 1980.

The administration has been pressing hard over the past six weeks to get the six major powers to agree to sanctions. A senior State Department official said Friday's agreement is likely to come as a surprise to Iran, which has calculated that it could continue to divide the international community.

In announcing the agreement, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said the six powers were "deeply disappointed" that the European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, had to report Iran's failure to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities, as required by U.N. Resolution 1696.

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