Major powers expected to meet on Iran this week

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WASHINGTON, Oct 30 (Reuters) Major powers plan to meet in London this week to discuss new UN sanctions on Iran amid a spat between Washington and the UN nuclear watchdog over Tehran's nuclear ambitions, US officials said today.

The officials, who asked not to be named because they were not authorised to discuss the matter in public, said they expected the five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany to meet toward the end of the week.

Washington and other Western countries suspect Tehran is developing nuclear weapons under the cover of its civilian nuclear program. Iran says its nuclear program is to generate electricity so it can export more of its valuable oil and gas.

Iran has so far spurned United Nations Security Council demands that it suspend its uranium enrichment program -- a process that can produce fuel for power plans or for bombs.

The meeting of the so-called P5+1 -- Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany -- was to have taken place two weeks ago in Berlin but China pulled out in protest against the US Congress' plan to honour the Dalai Lama.

Its purpose is to discuss a possible third UN Security Council resolution imposing sanctions against Iran for its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment. It was unclear whether the London meeting would take place on Thursday or on Friday.

The world's major powers agreed in late September 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.

Russia and China opposed an early move to tighten economic sanctions, saying Tehran should be given more time to cooperate with the International Atomic Energy Agency to shed light on its past nuclear activities.

US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns will represent the United States at the London meeting after talks in Paris today and in Vienna tomorrow, where he will meet IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei.

Washington slapped new sanctions on Iran last week and recent months have seen somewhat belligerent rhetoric that has prompted speculation of possible US military action before US President George W Bush steps down in January 2009.

Bush, who recently suggested that a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to World War Three, has said he wants a diplomatic solution but has not ruled out the possibility of using force.

ElBaradei has annoyed Washington by suggesting its sometimes harsh stance toward Tehran was counterproductive. On Sunday, he urged Iran's critics to ''stop spinning and hyping the Iranian issue.'' US officials said Burns' talks with ElBaradei were designed to emphasise the US commitment to pursuing diplomacy with Iran and to get an update on the IAEA's effort to get greater clarity on Iran's past nuclear activities.

REUTERS RJ BD2253

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