Major powers to meet on Iran this week

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TEHRAN, Oct 31 (Reuters) Major powers plan to meet in London this week to discuss new sanctions on Iran amid a spat between Washington and the UN atomic energy watchdog over Tehran's nuclear ambitions, US officials said.

The officials in Washington, 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 plus Germany to meet towards the end of the week.

But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who left Tehran today after a short visit, suggested a unified approach was a way off, telling reporters ''economic unilateral sanctions ... will not help the continued collective effort'', an apparent reference to new US punitive measures announced last week.

The Iranian news agency IRNA, reporting Lavrov's departure, gave no further details of his talks.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a speech yesterday that Iran would not retreat in the dispute and dismissed US offers of broader negotiations if Iran suspends its most sensitive atomic activities.

''This nation will not negotiate with anyone over its obvious and legal rights,'' he said. ''... the Iranian nation does not need America.'' This week's meeting of the so-called P5+1 -- Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany -- was to have taken place two weeks ago, 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 tomorrow 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.

GIVE IRAN MORE TIME 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 (IAEA) to shed light on its past activities.

Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei has annoyed Washington by suggesting its sometimes harsh stance toward Tehran was counter-productive. On Sunday, he urged Iran's critics to ''stop spinning and hyping the Iranian issue''.

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 President George W Bush steps down in January 2009.

Bush recently suggested a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to World War Three, but a White House spokeswoman said yesterday that was a ''hypothetical situation'' and the president was determined to resolve the standoff through diplomacy.

''There is no intention of bombing Iran,'' Dana Perino told reporters. ''We are on a diplomatic track. We are working with our partners in the UN Security Council.'' Visiting Tehran two weeks ago, President Vladimir Putin said Russia would not accept military strikes against Iran.

Russia says dialogue is the way to ease tensions.

The Lavrov visit coincides with a crucial round of talks in Tehran between officials from Iran and the UN International Atomic Energy Agency watchdog on implementing an August deal meant to resolve questions about past secret Iranian activity.

ElBaradei will report to the agency's 35-nation board of governors in mid-November. If Iran has not answered sensitive questions by then, Western powers say they will move to have harsh UN sanctions adopted.

The Council has already imposed two sets of limited sanctions on Iran for its refusal to halt enrichment, a process to make fuel for nuclear power plants that can also, if refined further, provide material for bombs.

Iran says its nuclear programme is to generate electricity so it can export more of its valuable oil and gas.

The United States last week broadened its own longstanding sanctions to include part of Iran's Revolutionary Guards and accused the most important wing of Tehran's military of spreading weapons of mass destruction.

REUTERS SYU HS1135

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