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. US optimistic about prospects of consensus on Iran
WASHINGTON, May 29 (AFP) May 29, 2006
Ahead of a crucial diplomatic week over Iran's nuclear program, the United States has expressed optimism about the possibility that leading world powers will reach a consensus on the international standoff.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- the United States, Britain, China, France and Russia -- will join Germany on Tuesday in holding a teleconference between senior policymakers of their respective foreign ministries.

They will try to put together a package of incentives and dissuasive measures aimed at persuading Iran to renounce its nuclear program.

Washington believes Tehran is seeking to develop nuclear weapons, but Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful.

After Tuesday's conference call, the foreign ministers of the six nations are expected to meet to finalize a potential carrot-and-stick package that will then be presented to Tehran.

The time and place of that meeting has not been announced yet, but US officials believe it will likely take place at the end of the week in a European capital.

"Well, I would hope that it is the case when the ministers do get together at the end of next week, likely the end of next week in Europe, that they'll be able to come to closure on any remaining issues," State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Friday.

"I think the political directors are going to try to move the ball forward and come to closure on whatever issues remain," he said.

"If they're not able to during their conference call or whatever other bilateral contacts they have, then the ministers will try to hammer things out."

He added that Washington hoped to be able to produce a joint document at the end of this meeting.

The package prepared by France, Britain and Germany includes sanctions that Russia and China, key trade partners of Iran, are reluctant to accept.

By contrast, the United States is reluctant to have discussions about providing security guarantees to Tehran.

The US administration has also refused to hold direct negotiations with Iran, which are being urged by many leading Europeans, the International Atomic Energy Agency Director Mohamed ElBaradei, as well as prominent US foreign policy experts such as Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright and Dennis Ross.

US President George W. Bush declared Thursday that the ball was in Iran's court over the nuclear standoff.

"If they want to be isolated from the world, we will work to achieve that," Bush said during a joint press conference with British Prime Minister Tony Blair here.

Blair, for his part, said that he believed the Western position was very reasonable.

"Iran is a great country, but it needs a government that is going to recognize that part of being a great country is to be in line with your international obligations and to cease supporting those people in different parts of the world who want -- by terrorism and violence -- to disrupt the process of democracy," he said.

Subsequent steps by the UN Security Council will depend on the Iranian response.

If Iran accepts the measures the West is offering, its negotiations with European Union nations will resume.

If it declines, then the Security Council would be inclined to take action that would require compliance, according to political analysts.

McCormack said the ministers will also have to agree on how much time to give Tehran to consider the proposals.

"And then I would expect there would be some time where they would have the opportunity to consider their options here," he said. "But we have to get finished work on the package first."

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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