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. US signals headway with Russia, China on Iran
WASHINGTON (AFP) Nov 22, 2005
The United States on Monday reported progress in lining up support from reluctant countries such as China and Russia for a united front in the row over Iran's suspected nuclear arms program.

Senior State Department official Nicholas Burns was upbeat after what he called "excellent discussions" Friday in London with representatives of China, Russia and India as well as US European allies negotiating with Iran.

"I was encouraged by those discussions on Friday because I think that there is a wider circle of countries now working all together to send one message to Iran," Burns told a news conference here.

Burns said the London group supported a solution to allow Iran to maintain a peaceful nuclear program but move sensitive uranium enrichment activities to another country such as Russia.

"What I heard in those conversations in London on Friday was agreement that those are the essential elements of some type of negotiation," said Burns, under secretary of state for political affairs.

China, Russia and, for a while, India have been cool to US moves to refer Iran to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions for its nuclear program, which Tehran insists is strictly civilian.

Burns' optimistic comments came amid reports the United States and its allies France, Germany and Britain were ready to delay referral of Iran to the UN Security Council to allow more time for negotiations.

The board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog, was due to meet Thursday in Vienna to discuss Iran, but US officials said their focus was on resuming stalled talks with Tehran.

"We're trying to encourage Iran to get back to the negotiating table," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters.

"We're trying to work with the international community to give the Iranians every opportunity to avail themselves of the negotiating mechanism that is out there and to avail themselves of some potentially very interesting offers."

France, Germany and Britain, the EU-3, have been offering Tehran security and economic incentives in an unsuccessful effort to wean Iran off its suspected program to build a nuclear bomb.

But Washington and its allies have seen a new opening in Russia's attempt to broker a compromise that would move enrichment of Iran's uranium to its soil. "It's a period of great fluidity, diplomatically," Burns said.

The United States has long pushed for UN action and claimed victory at an IAEA board meeting in September that found the Islamic republic in breach of its international obligations on the use of nuclear power.

There has been little movement since but diplomats in Vienna said the Europeans and Americans were willing to put off a UN referral again to give Russia a chance to broker a compromise deal.

McCormack reaffirmed the US position that there were enough votes within the IAEA's 35-member board to go to the UN Security Council. But he added, "We will reserve the right to seek that action at the time of our choosing."

He would not predict the action to be taken at the IAEA meeting opening Thursday. "I think at this point we're going to wait to see how the diplomacy unfolds over the next several days," McCormack said.

Burns said the Americans would be in touch with their allies Tuesday after what he said was a meeting of European foreign ministers scheduled for Monday. There were no details available on that meeting.

All rights reserved. 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.

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