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. UN powers divided over Iran; US threatens sanctions
PARIS, May 2 (AFP) May 03, 2006
Envoys from the top five UN powers, plus Germany, said that a "firm" international response was needed over Iran's nuclear programme, but remained at odds over what measures to take after a Paris meeting ended without agreement.

With Iran striking a defiant tone, further negotiations were to take place in coming days as foreign ministers planned to gather in New York next Monday with the aim of producing a UN resolution acceptable to all.

The hardening stance against Iran, led by the West's push to impose sanctions, sent oil prices to a new record level on Tuesday. Brent North Sea crude for June delivery rose to 74.97 dollars a barrel.

The Paris talks were the first among senior representatives of Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, as well as Germany, since the International Atomic Energy told the Security Council last Friday that Iran was in breach of a UN demand to halt uranium enrichment.

Nicholas Burns, the number three in the US State Department, said after the meeting with counterparts from the other countries that "all agreed that the Iran nuclear programme should be suspended, and agreed to begin Security Council debate and start negotiating a resolution for suspension".

But he also voiced frustration with permanent Security Council members Russia and China which are opposing the United States and its EU allies.

"It's time for countries to take responsibilities, especially those countries that have close relationships with Iran," he said.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki ruled out any possibility of suspending uranium enrichment work as demanded by the UN Security Council and the country's top security adviser predicted Arab states in the region would reject US-led pressure.

The United States, backed by Britain, France and Germany, fear Iran is on the path to building a nuclear arsenal under cover of developing atomic energy and wants to invoke Chapter 7 of the UN's Charter -- a passage that would open the way for sanctions and eventually even force as a way to freeze its activities.

But Moscow and Beijing, which are major trading partners with oil-rich Iran, are calling instead for a softer approach.

The US ambassador to the UN, John Bolton, said Tuesday that if a tough resolution was stymied, his country was ready to form a coalition of allies to impose sanctions outside of a UN mandate.

"If we were faced with a veto by one of the permanent members, if for whatever reason the council couldn't fulfill its responsibilities, then I think it would be incumbent on us, and I'm sure we would press ahead to ask other countries or other groups of countries to impose those sanctions," Bolton told a congressional committee in Washington.

French foreign ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said the six countries involved in the Paris meeting agreed that Iran's nuclear programme "is not compatible with the demands of the international community" and were concerned at its development.

He added: "It has been agreed to pursue discussions, in particular in New York, with the aim of reaching a firm decision from the UN Security Council and addressing a clear message to Iran."

But Iran's foreign minister said earlier Tuesday there was no question -- "absolutely not" -- of Iran suspending its uranium enrichment work, and he predicted China and Russia would block the threat of UN sanctions.

"There is a very wrong assumption held by some that the West can do anything it wants through the Security Council," he told the hardline Tehran daily Kayhan.

At the same time, the head of the Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, said Iran had succeeded in enriching uranium to a higher level of purity than previously achieved.

The grade reached -- 4.8 percent purity -- would not be exceeded because "this level suffices for making nuclear fuel," he said.

The clerical regime has insisted its nuclear activities are exclusively for developing atomic energy.

Purity of more than 90 percent is required to produce the fissile core of an atom bomb -- a weapon Western intelligence assessments say Iran is at least seven years from being able to build.

Iran's top national security adviser Ali Larijani accused Washington of trying to sow division between Iran and Arab countries in the region but said that the attempt would fail.

Gulf Arab leaders "will not ... stand by the United States in its attempts against Iran because they are aware of the US administration's policy of double standards" in the region, Larijani was quoted as saying in the United Arab Emirates capital of Abu Dhabi.

"It is the United States which tries to sow conflict and rifts between the states of the region, and it is the one now seeking to create trouble between Shiites and Sunnis in and outside Iraq," he charged.

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