PARIS (Reuters) - World powers held a “positive” meeting on Saturday aimed at agreeing more U.N. sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program and a deal on punitive measures could be reached within weeks, a French diplomat said.
The meeting of senior officials in Paris took place the day after last-ditch talks between European Union mediator Javier Solana and Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, which the French diplomat described as “a disaster”.
A decision on new sanctions could not be reached at Saturday’s meeting as Russia’s envoy, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Kislyak, was prevented from flying because of snow in Canada, but the French diplomat said progress was made.
“The meeting went well, in a positive spirit, and we have elements that allow us reasonably to believe that we will be able to have a resolution in the short term,” the diplomat, who declined to be identified, told reporters.
“I am relatively optimistic that we will have a resolution in the coming weeks,” he added.
The five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany agreed in September to delay sanctions against Iran until the end of November, pending reports on an investigation by the U.N. nuclear watchdog and a European Union mediation effort.
The states decided that if the reports by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the EU’s Solana did not show “a positive outcome”, they would agree on more sanctions against Iran and put it to a vote in the Council.
Solana said his last meeting with Iran’s top nuclear negotiator on Friday was disappointing, and an EU envoy gave a negative report on Solana’s behalf on Saturday.
“The meeting was a disaster,” the diplomat said, adding that Iran’s new top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, told Solana that commitments made by his predecessor were no longer on the table.
The IAEA report found Iran was cooperating, but not proactively, which failed to satisfy all six powers.
In previous meetings Russia and China, which have strong trade ties with Iran, have agreed only to the mildest measures proposed by Britain, the United States and France.
The French diplomat said China’s envoy had adopted a more constructive tone on Saturday.
“We had the impression that China is looking for an agreement,” he said.
In Washington, the State Department had no immediate comment on the Paris meeting.
Tehran rejects Western charges it is pursuing nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian atomic program. It says it only wants to generate electricity, but its failure to allay international fears has prompted two rounds of U.N. sanctions.
The Security Council has demanded that Iran suspend uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for power plants or, potentially, nuclear weapons. Tehran has refused and said it has a right to the technology.
Saturday’s talks were the first time the six world powers discussed the IAEA report and the outcome of Solana’s talks.
“We will try to draw up a draft resolution and we will discuss it among capitals next week,” the diplomat said.
“Depending on capitals’ reaction, we will try to transfer a proposal to New York quickly,” he added.
He said, however, that there would be no quantum shift in the third U.N. sanctions resolution from the two previous ones, which imposed limited economic sanctions on Iran as well as asset freezes and travel restrictions against Iranian officials.
“This resolution will be a compromise resolution. So by definition it won’t be a resolution that will mark a break with previous resolutions. It won’t be a dramatic breakthrough,” the diplomat said, adding that broadening the visa restrictions and asset freezes were being discussed.
France has also been pushing for the European Union to pass its own, separate sanctions against Iran. The diplomat said that was also making progress.
“We hope to have a decision by the European Union in January,” he said.