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. Major powers make progress on Iran UN resolution: US
WASHINGTON, March 1 (AFP) Mar 02, 2007
The United States reported progress Thursday in talks with five other world powers on a new UN resolution aimed at curbing Iran's nuclear program and said work on a text could start next week.

Senior officials from the United States, four European powers and China conferred by telephone on tightening sanctions on Iran for its refusal to halt uranium enrichment, which could produce a nuclear bomb.

"They had a good, productive discussion during which they made progress in agreeing on the elements of a resolution," said Joanne Moore, a spokeswoman for the State Department. She said "a few more issues" remained to be nailed down.

Moore said the officials agreed after the two-hour conversation to convene another conference call on Saturday, and their UN ambassadors "could begin drafting the text of a resolution next week."

The talks brought together the political directors of Britain, China, France, Russia and United States -- the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council -- plus Germany.

The officials had met Monday in London to thrash out tougher action against Tehran after the UN nuclear watchdog reported Iran had not halted, but in fact was expanding, its uranium enrichment program.

The United States has refused to rule out military action against Iran to keep it from producing a nuclear weapon, which US intelligence says could happen by "early to mid next decade."

Iran, however, has denied seeking atomic weapons, and asserts it has a right to a peaceful nuclear program. It vowed on Tuesday never to yield to the West's demand for a freeze on sensitive nuclear work.

The Iranian government has continued uranium enrichment at its plant in Natanz, central Iran, and wants to install thousands of uranium-enriching centrifuges there this year.

The UN Security Council slapped sanctions on Iran in December, including a bar on the sale of nuclear-related materials to the Islamic Republic and a freeze on financial assets of Iranians involved in illicit atomic research.

But China and Russia, which both wield a veto on the 15-member Security Council, have been wary of imposing further punitive action against Tehran.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said Thursday after talks in Beijing that France and China had agreed to maintain unity on a second UN sanctions resolution.

"The key word for us is the unity of the international community," Douste-Blazy told journalists after meetings with his Chinese counterparts in Beijing.

"The role of France is to form a balance between the Americans and the British who want more sanctions and the Russians and the Chinese who do not want such a level of sanctions," he said.

Chinese officials refused to discuss the new resolution but Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing discussed the issue with Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Eraqchi in Beijing on Thursday, the official Xinhua news agency reported.

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