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. US struggling for consensus on Iran
WASHINGTON (AFP) Aug 10, 2005
The United States appeared to be struggling Wednesday to nail down an international response to Iran's resumption of nuclear activities and mulled a possible deadline for Tehran to halt its work.

Deputy State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said Washington hoped the International Atomic Energy Agency meeting in Vienna would "send Iran a strong message" on the need to stop uranium conversion work it restarted Tuesday.

But Ereli would not say whether governors of the 35-member IAEA were ready to adopt a tough resolution on Iran's nuclear program, which Washington fears is aimed at developing atomic bombs.

"That's what we're working toward," he repeated under sharp questioning at the State Department daily briefing.

Ereli reiterated the US position that Iran should be referred to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions after breaking an agreement struck in November to suspend sensitive nuclear work.

But with diplomats of the IAEA haggling behind closed doors Wednesday over a response to Iran, Ereli said, "We are working to achieve the broadest consensus possible and the strongest resolution possible."

US officials would not say whether the language would include an explicit reference to the United Nations. But Ereli signaled that Washington was ready to give Tehran some more leeway.

"What we're trying to do, frankly, is to give Iran a chance to do the right thing," the spokesman told reporters.

Iran had agreed to suspend work on its nuclear fuel cycle while continuing talks with Britain, France and Germany on a package of economic and security incentives to renounce its suspected weapons ambitions.

Ereli suggested the United States and its partners on the IAEA, the UN nuclear watchdog, were considering the idea of setting some kind of deadline for Iran to shut down its sensitive nuclear activities.

"I think that this is something that's probably under discussion in Vienna ... looking at the timeframe within which to review Iranian actions," he said. He would not be specific but added, "it's not open-ended."

The IAEA board, which began meeting Tuesday, canceled a formal session scheduled for Wednesday and was expected to reconvene on Thursday, diplomats in Vienna said.

One diplomat said Western countries, with Russian and Chinese backing, felt strong action was needed to preserve the IAEA's credibility after Iran ignored so many previous resolutions.

But non-aligned nations led by Malaysia feared that a resolution focused on Iran could isolate Tehran and cause a backlash, the diplomat said. They pushed for the option of a simple statement from the board's chairman.

Analysts have said Washington might find it hard to garner broad support for tough action against Iran, with Europe, Russia and China anxious to avoid jeopardizing their access to oil and lucrative trade.

At the United Nations, Chinese UN ambassador Wang Guangya said it would not be helpful to haul Iran before the UN Security Council over its removal of UN seals to bring online a key nuclear fuel plant.

Iran broke the seals placed by IAEA inspectors on the uranium conversion plant in Isfahan, giving the facility full operational capacity after Iran ended a nine-month shutdown there on Monday.

"We all want a peaceful solution to the Iranian issue. So I think the best place is the efforts between the EU and (the) Iranians or the IAEA," Wang said.

"The council has too many things on the table. Why should we add more? I think the EU and Iran have not given up their efforts to work together for a solution ... This issue deserves a diplomatic solution."

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