Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice reported progress Wednesday in London talks among senior diplomats of the five permanent U.N. Security Council member countries and Germany on a strategy for dealing with Iran's nuclear program. But she said more talks will be needed, perhaps at the ministerial level.
The major powers are hoping to be able to present Iran soon with a package of incentives for ending nuclear activities the United States believes are weapons-related, and a defined program of punitive actions if it refuses.
But Secretary Rice acknowledges that a closed door meeting of the so-called P-Five Plus One grouping in London ended without an agreement, and that further talks will be needed after outstanding issues are discussed in the respective capitals.
Condoleezza Rice (r) with Mohamed el Baradei at the U.S. State Department The Secretary of State discussed the results of the London meeting at a joint press appearance with International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed el Baradei.
'We did not expect that they were going to finalize all matters, and I think they are still working on some matters," said Condoleezza Rice. "But as I understand it - I did talk with Undersecretary [Nicholas] Burns - that it was a very good exchange between the P-Five Plus One and I believe they are now prepared to talk about the progress that they've made, and perhaps to return these ideas to capitals for further consideration. And I've understood that there's some consideration that the [foreign] ministers may meet soon as well."
Neither Rice nor her key aides were specific about the problem issues in the talks.
But going into the meeting, Russia and China were resisting calls by the United States and its European allies for a binding Security Council resolution that would threaten sanctions against Iran and be enforceable by possible military action.
IAEA chief el Baradei is understood to support a direct U.S. nuclear dialogue with Iran instead of the Bush administration's current approach of working through Britain, France and Germany.
However in the appearance with Rice, elBaradei said the format of talks was for the United States to decide, and that his role was as an honest broker in pursuit of a diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear crisis.
"I believe that it's very important for Iran to take whatever measures are required for the international community to have confidence that its program is peaceful in nature," said Mohamed el Baradei. "I believe also it's very important that Iran goes back into the negotiations, to the negotiating table with the Europeans."
El Baradei said he discussed the situation a few days ago with Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, and had conveyed Iranian views on how to resolve the crisis to Secretary Rice.
Earlier Wednesday the State Department confirmed that Iran had recently passed word of its interest in direct talks with the United States to U.S. officials through diplomatic channels.
A spokesman said the Iranian soundings show that Teheran is feeling international pressure and that the United States will stick to its indirect negotiating stance.
He also said there are no plans for a formal U.S. reply to the letter to President Bush by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad earlier this month, despite news reports that some policy experts within the U.S. government are urging a response.
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