NEW YORK, Sep 28 (Reuters) The world's major powers agreed today to delay a vote on tougher sanctions on Iran until late November at the earliest, depending on reports by the UN nuclear watchdog and a European Union negotiator.
Foreign ministers of the United States, Russia, China, Germany, France and Britain asked EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana to hold more talks with Iran's national security chief, Ali Larijani, while the International Atomic Energy Agency tries to clear up doubts about past nuclear activities.
''We agree to finalize a text for a third UN Security Council sanctions resolution ... with the intention of bringing it to a vote ... unless the November reports of Dr Solana and (IAEA chief) Dr.
(Mohamed) ElBaradei show a positive outcome of their efforts,'' they said in a joint statement.
The outcome was a setback for the United States and France, which had sought swifter action to step up economic and political pressure on the Islamic Republic over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, which the West believes is aimed at developing nuclear weapons.
A European diplomat involved in the process called it ''a victory for unity over haste.'' Russia and China opposed an early move to tighten economic sanctions, saying Tehran should be given more time to cooperate with the IAEA to shed light on its past activities.
Iran's foreign minister, speaking as the major powers met elsewhere in New York, defiantly said sanctions would not change what he called Tehran's ''rational'' nuclear policy.
Manouchehr Mottaki told the Asia Society: ''Sanctions as a political tool for exerting pressure is ineffective in making Iran change its basically rational policy choice.'' GERMANY ON FENCE Germany, Iran's biggest European trade partner, has been sitting on the fence, insisting that further sanctions must be within the U.N. framework and conditional on avoiding the use of military force against the Islamic Republic.
''We can't exclude sanctions in the longer term in the quest for a diplomatic and political solution. It depends on Iran itself,'' German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's defiant statements at the UN General Assembly this week that the nuclear issue is ''closed'' and Tehran will ignore the Security Council appeared to have little effect on the debate.
Despite Western criticism of ElBaradei's agreement with Iran on a work program to clear up questions on its past nuclear activities, seen in Washington as a tactic to stall sanctions and evade the key issue of halting enrichment, the major powers' statement welcomed the accord.
''We call upon Iran, however, to produce tangible results rapidly and effectively by clarifying all outstanding issues and concerns on Iran's nuclear program, including topics which could have a military nuclear dimension,'' the ministers said.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice held separate back-to-back meetings, first of all six foreign ministers, then with just the three Europeans.
Diplomats said the purpose was to press the Europeans to take their own measures to restrict trade credits, investment and financial flows with Iran if Washington could not get Moscow and Beijing to agree to early UN action.
Many European officials were hesitant about acting outside the U.N. framework, arguing that the unity of the international community so far has surprised and shaken Iranian leaders, and that any split would be easy for Tehran to exploit.
''I believe that what impresses Iran the most is the unity of the six. Iran's strategy is to split the six but it hasn't succeeded so far,'' Steinmeier said.
European investment in Iran is already falling dramatically -- British Foreign Secretary David Miliband cited a 40 per cent fall in the first half of this year.
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