'Serious' talks on Iran sanctions: UN

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Washington, Sep 22: Major powers said they had ''serious and constructive'' talks about new UN Security Council sanctions aimed at trying to force Iran to halt its uranium enrichment activities.

But the officials of the five permanent Security Council members and Germany said yesterday they will keep pursuing a ''dual track'' approach to Iran -- trying to persuade it to abandon enrichment via negotiations while considering new sanctions.

Western nations, which suspect Iran may be seeking to develop an atomic bomb under the cover of its civil nuclear program, have demanded Tehran suspend its uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for a bomb.

Iran says its nuclear program is to generate power so it can export more of its oil and gas and has so far rebuffed three UN Security Council resolutions -- including two that imposed sanctions -- demanding it halt uranium enrichment.

''The discussions were serious and constructive,'' US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said on behalf of the political directors of Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany after they met in Washington.

''They had a detailed discussion of the elements of a new United Nations Security Council Resolution, as well as possibilities of continued dialogue with Iran,'' he added.

''They reaffirmed their commitment to maintain a dual track approach on Iran's nuclear activities.'' While France and Britain strongly back a US push for harsher Security Council sanctions, China and Russia oppose this. Other European nations also have qualms about further sanctions.

New financial sacntions?

The Security Council on December 23 imposed trade sanctions on Iran's sensitive nuclear and advanced missile programs. On March 24, the 15-nation body froze the assets of 28 groups, companies and individuals and banned Tehran's arms exports.

New UN Security Council measures under consideration include additional financial sanctions and an inspection of cargo to and from Iran to search for banned nuclear-related materials, diplomats have said.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who on Sunday raised the specter of war with Iran but has since backed away from his comment, stressed diplomatic efforts to end Iran's suspected nuclear arms program.

''It is important to note that we have set out a diplomatic path that includes negotiation as the preferred means by which to resolve this issue,'' Rice told reporters at a joint news conference with Kouchner.

''We will seek further resolutions in the UN Security Council should Iran not take up the negotiating track,'' Rice added, noting the Security Council had used both asset freezes and visa bans to punish Iran in the past.

''There are any number of ways that we can expand those efforts,'' Rice said.

Kouchner reiterated France's support for stronger penalties for Iran from the Security Council.

''We may hope that there will be a third resolution to reinforce the sanctions, which up until now have not been very effective,'' Kouchner told reporters.


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