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World News

Six powers consult Arabs on Iran's nuclear plans

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany agreed with Arab diplomats to consult regularly on Iran’s nuclear program, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said on Tuesday.

Aliasghar Soltaniyeh, Iran's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Ambassador, briefs the media during an IAEA board of governors meeting in Vienna's U.N. headquarters September 22, 2008. REUTERS/Herwig Prammer

Rice was speaking to reporters after the six powers met representatives of Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq, United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia to discuss what Washington says are Tehran’s plans to build a nuclear bomb -- a charge Iran denies.

“All there expressed their concern about Iran’s nuclear policies and its regional ambitions,” Rice said, adding that they all expressed support for efforts by the U.N. Security Council, the six powers and the U.N. atomic agency on Iran.

“Noting the utility of the consultations, the states present agreed that they will want to continue their meetings on a regular basis,” Rice said.

Iran, which was not invited to the meeting at U.N. headquarters in New York, said Washington was “distorting the realities about Iran’s peaceful nuclear program and about Iran’s constructive role in the region.”

Iran rejects Western allegations that it is secretly amassing the capability to build atomic weapons and refuses to suspend what it says is a civilian nuclear energy program.

The six powers -- Britain, the United States, France, China, Russia and Germany -- have led negotiations on three rounds of U.N. sanctions against Iran for refusing to suspend its uranium enrichment program.

BALANCE OF POWER SHIFTING

The Iraq war, which brought to power a Shi’ite-dominated government in Baghdad with close ties to Iran, has shifted the balance of power in the Gulf region, raising concerns among some Gulf Arabs about Shi’ite Muslim Iran’s growing influence.

In recent years a number of Arab states have announced plans to develop nuclear programs for civilian purposes.

In a statement criticizing Tuesday’s meeting, Iran’s mission to the United Nations said the real concern for regional stability was not Iran but “the interference of the United States in the region and its tired divisive policies.”

Asked whether the six powers, referred to as the “P5+1,” and Arab diplomats had discussed further sanctions on Iran, Rice said the point had been to hold a first large meeting to build on informal consultations in the past.

“I think there’s concern that there will need to be a way to finally (motivate) Iran to make a different choice concerning its nuclear ambitions, but this was not an effort to develop a common strategy,” Rice said.

“I think what really did come through here was that these are countries that have very deep interests in how this issue gets resolved, and they want to continue consultations with the P5+1 on how this is all going to come out,” Rice said.

The outgoing U.S. administration has suggested that a new round of sanctions against Iran would be justified since Tehran has not responded positively to an offer of economic and political incentives from the six powers.

Diplomats from some of the six powers say the process of negotiating new U.N. sanctions is on hold until U.S. President-elect Barack Obama takes office in January.

Obama, a Democrat, has said he plans a new approach to Iran and its nuclear program, including direct talks if needed, a break from President George W. Bush’s isolation strategy.

Editing by David Wiessler

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