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Big Power Envoys To Convene Again on Iran Nuclear Issue

By David Gollust, VOA, Washington

Senior diplomats from the five permanent U.N. Security Council member countries and Germany convene in Berlin this week to discuss efforts to persuade Iran to halt uranium enrichment. European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana is due to meet again with Iran's lead negotiator, Ali Larijani, in the next several days. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The meeting of political directors of the P5 plus 1 grouping will be the second in the span of a week, though U.S. officials are giving no indication of any break-through in the nuclear dialogue with Iran.

Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns left Washington late Tuesday to represent the United States at the Berlin talks on Iran, which will be a side discussion at a broader meeting to lay groundwork for the June summit in Germany of these Group of Eight industrial powers.

Though no date has been set, Iranian negotiator Larijani and EU chief diplomat Solana are to meet again around the middle of this month to discuss the long-standing P-Five plus one offer of incentives to Iran, if it stops enriching uranium and returns to negotiations over its nuclear program.

The two reported unspecified progress at their last meeting in late April and news reports say they discussed a so-called "double time-out" formula - under which Iran would agree not to expand its enrichment work if the major powers would not seek further U.N. sanctions.

At a news briefing Tuesday, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack did not flatly reject the "double time-out" concept, though he stressed there has been "no give" in the position of the United States that Iran would have to bring its enrichment work to a complete halt:

"In principle, anything that adheres to the idea of suspension of their enrichment-related activities, in return for suspension of further activity in the Security Council, is something that we have signed on to. Now the devil is in the details [difficulty is in the details], as you might imagine, with this sort of offer. So, if there's something new from the Iranian side with respect to ceasing or suspending their enrichment-related activities, certainly that would be something Mr. Solana would be very interested in hearing about. But thus far, we haven't heard of that," he said.

Iran is reportedly running more than 1,300 enrichment centrifuges at its nuclear facility at Natanz as part of a nuclear program it says is entirely peaceful.

But the United States and key allies believe the effort is weapons-related, and McCormack said Iran cannot be allowed to perfect its enrichment techniques while the political dialogue drags on.

The U.N. Security Council has imposed two sets of limited sanctions on Tehran in an effort to halt the enrichment work, but it has thus far refused to stop the effort.

Iran has until May 23 to comply with the latest Security Council resolution, though McCormack said the P5 plus 1 political directors will not discuss terms of a further U.N. resolution at this week's Berlin meeting.

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