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Washington said to be looking at deadline for Iran

Written by: Staff

WASHINGTON, Mar 5 (Reuters) The United States, ahead of a key meeting on Iran on Monday, is discussing a 30 to 60-day deadline for Tehran to halt its nuclear program and cooperate with international inspectors or face intensified pressure in the UN Security Council, according to a US official.

Monday's meeting of the 35-nation International Atomic Energy Agency governing board is expected to take stock of Iran's continued defiance of US and European demands to end sensitive weapons-related uranium enrichment activity and then hand the case over to the security council.

The United States wants the council -- which has enforcement powers -- to issue a statement insisting Iran cease its nuclear activities and then giving Tehran ''a time period to respond -- say 30 to 60 days -- after which the council would consider what to do'' about applying further pressure, said the US official, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

The Iran issue has had many twists and turns since Tehran's previously secret nuclear work was discovered in 2002 and debate among key countries, including Russia and China, on how to proceed remains intense, officials and diplomats said.

Iran today again threatened to begin large-scale nuclear enrichment if the case is taken up by the security council.

The United States and key allies led by the European Union three of Britain, France and Germany are convinced Iran is trying to produce a nuclear weapon but Tehran insists it is only interested in civilian nuclear energy.

The IAEA is expected to weigh a report on Monday by the IAEA chief saying Iran has ignored a February 4 resolution urging it to shelve uranium-enrichment work to ease the crisis.

Instead, Iran is vacuum-testing 20 centrifuges, which convert uranium into fuel for power plants or, if highly purified, bombs. It also plans to install 3,000 centrifuges later this year in a push to ''industrial scale'' enrichment.

The Vienna-based IAEA board voted on February 4 to report Iran to the security council, but on condition the foremost world body on issues of war and peace would not flex its muscle at least until after Monday's session.

US officials said there had been talk of the IAEA taking up a resolution to reinforce what the board did in February and also talk of a resolution that would weaken the board's previous resolutions on Iran.

''We hope they don't go down either of those paths,'' one US official told Reuters, Another US official said: ''Our approach next week is that the board is not really going to take (any specific) action'' and then the security council ''will take up the Iran issue.'' Just when the security council might do this is unclear.

The US-EU3 goal is to move quickly but the timing will depend in part on Russia because of its leading role in trying to find a compromise with Tehran, one American official said.

Russian Foreign minister Sergei Lavrov is to meet in Washington on Monday with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.


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