World powers seek to narrow differences on Iran

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NEW YORK, Sep 28 (Reuters) The world's major powers will try to narrow their differences on tougher sanctions against Iran when they meet today in New York, seeking to keep up pressure on Tehran to curb its nuclear program.

The United States, France and Britain want the UN Security Council to adopt a third sanctions resolution soon to punish Iran for defying world demands that it halt uranium enrichment, which the West suspects is aimed at making a bomb.

Russia and China say Tehran should be given more time to cooperate with the UN atomic watchdog to clear up questions about its past nuclear activities and they oppose an early move to tighten economic sanctions.

Germany, Iran's biggest European trade partner, has been sitting on the fence, insisting that further sanctions must be within the UN framework and conditional on avoiding the use of military force against the Islamic Republic.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's defiant statements at the UN General Assembly this week that the Iranian nuclear issue is ''closed'' and Tehran will ignore the Security Council have had little effect on the debate, diplomats said.

To try to force the pace of sanctions, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has scheduled separate back-to-back meetings today, first of all six foreign ministers, then with just the three Europeans.

''The main topic of conversation is two-pronged: one, what are the elements of a resolution and two, the timing,'' State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

''Looking at the comments from (Russian) Foreign Minister (Sergei) Lavrov, you still have agreement on the basic strategy, and that is to use the Security Council to pressure Iran to change their behavior,'' he said.

NO HURRY Diplomats said the purpose of holding separate meetings was that if Moscow and Beijing blocked progress on a sanctions resolution, Washington would press the Europeans to take their own measures to restrict trade credits, investment and financial flows with Iran.

Lavrov made clear Moscow is in no hurry for further UN sanctions, saying the priority was to support Iran's negotiations with the International Atomic Energy Agency.

''The Security Council track was engaged to support the negotiating track,'' he told reporters at a reception last evening.

''We are committed to continue to engage the Security Council to support negotiations and to respond from the Security Council to ups and downs in the situation,'' he said.

Many European officials are hesitant about acting outside the UN framework, arguing that the unity of the international community so far has shaken Iranian leaders, and that any split would be easy for Tehran to exploit.

They note that European investment in Iran has already fallen dramatically -- British Foreign Secretary David Miliband cited a 40 per cent fall in the first half of this year.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who has held long-running talks offering economic and security incentives on behalf of the major powers if Iran suspends enrichment, also wants another chance to persuade chief Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani to accept a temporary suspension of enrichment.

REUTERS SG RK1006

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