Iran sanctions meeting cancelled-European diplomats

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LONDON, Nov 16 (Reuters) A meeting of Western powers scheduled for next week to discuss tougher sanctions on Iran has been cancelled because China has pulled out, European diplomatic sources said today.

Political directors from Britain, France, Germany, the United States, Russia and China were due to meet on Monday to assess reports about Tehran's nuclear programme from the United Nations atomic watchdog and from European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana.

''There's no meeting scheduled now because the Chinese are saying that they can't make the date,'' said a European diplomatic source.

''I think it's partly related to genuine travel difficulties, but also linked to resistance on the broader question of sanctions from that quarter.'' Iran has refused to halt uranium enrichment after two previous United Nations' sanctions resolutions and denies the West's allegations that it wants to make atomic bombs, saying its programme is for peaceful power generation.

The so-called ''P5+1'' group -- the permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany -- have struggled to maintain consensus over hitting Iran with harder sanctions.

The United States recently imposed unilateral economic sanctions and has not ruled out military action against Iran. Britain has also been pushing hard for a third round of sanctions, including restrictions on energy and financial investment in Iran.

But China and Russia have argued strongly to give the diplomatic route more time.

A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency on Thursday said Iran had made important strides towards clarifying past nuclear activities but key questions remain unresolved and it has significantly expanded uranium enrichment.

REUTERS ARB KN1821

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