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World News

Six power talks to show unity on Iran - Germany

VIENNA (Reuters) - German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said on Thursday a meeting of six big powers next Tuesday aims to show international resolve not to allow Iran to develop nuclear weapons technology.

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks to journalists after presenting his proposed budget in Tehran January 7, 2008. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

“There are open questions which Iran urgently needs to resolve to reestablish lost trust. It remains the case that the international community cannot and will not permit nuclear weapons technology to be developed in this region,” he said.

“We will be meeting in Berlin in a few days time with the respective Security Council members to debate how we can express demonstrable unity on these questions in the future,” Steinmeier told reporters before talks with International Atomic Energy Agency Director Mohamed ElBaradei.

The West fears Tehran is secretly seeking an atom bomb. Iran says its nuclear program is only for power generation and a recent U.S. intelligence estimate it had stopped an active nuclear arms drive in 2003, compounding disagreement among the six powers over the next steps in the stand-off.

Germany’s foreign minister and his counterparts from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council are expected to join the Berlin talks.

Germany wants a new U.N. resolution tightening sanctions against Iran, but Steinmeier said he and ElBaradei were discussing possible solutions and stressed the findings of the U.S. intelligence agencies must be taken into account.

“Recently we have seen new estimates on the status of research and development work (in Iran),” he said. “In this connection it is of course important what the (U.S. National Intelligence Estimate) has expressed.”

A European official involved in negotiations said the estimate had set back the sanctions effort and eased pressure on Iran, notably because of stronger resistance by Russia.

“The NIE told us nothing we did not know, but the Russians understood that it meant the United States was not going to attack Iran any time soon,” he told Reuters. This had made Moscow less cooperative on proposals for harsher sanctions.

ElBaradei had talks in Tehran last week to seek swifter cooperation with a long IAEA inquiry into Iran’s nuclear history and an end to curbs on U.N. inspections. He came back with Tehran’s agreement to answer outstanding questions within a month about past, covert nuclear work that had military applications.

European leaders want to hold off for those four weeks on another sanctions resolution so they can be seen to have gone the extra mile and be in a stronger position politically if Iran lets the IAEA down, the European official said.

WASHINGTON WANTS URGENCY

But the United States wants a third sanctions resolution agreed on as soon as possible, said State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, adding that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke to Steinmeier by phone on Wednesday.

“It is no secret that we would have liked to have another sanctions resolution by this point in time,” McCormack told reporters. “Our intention is to continue to push along with our allies for a Security Council resolution at the earliest possible date.”

China hinted at continued distaste for steps to isolate Iran, a major source of oil for Beijing, by calling for flexibility and compromise from both Iran and the West.

“We hope Iran will be able to abide by the relevant Security Council resolutions and continue to show flexibility and fully cooperate with the international community,” said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu.

“We also hope that the international community will intensify diplomatic efforts to break the stalemate.”

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte, visiting China, said the NIE did not mean tough sanctions were not needed. “We think it’s important that there be an additional Security Council resolution, because Iran is out of compliance with previously passed resolutions,” he told reporters.

Additional reporting by Sue Pleming in Washington, Paul Taylor in Brussels and Chris Buckley in Beijing; Editing by Chris Wilson

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