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P5+1 Says Door Still Open For Talks With Iran

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton speaks to reporters at the UN on September 22.

The six world powers looking to curb Iran's controversial nuclear program say they remain "determined and united" to seek a diplomatic resolution to the standoff.

Meeting on September 22, the eve of the UN General Assembly in New York, the so-called P5+1 countries, which include the five permanent members of the UN Security Council -- Britain, China, France, Russia, and the United States -- along with Germany, were hosted by EU foreign-policy chief Catherine Ashton.

In a statement that Ashton read to reporters, the countries expressed their readiness for engagement with Iran. "Our objective continues to be a comprehensive long-term negotiated solution which restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear program," she said.

The West accuses Tehran of seeking to produce nuclear weapons, while Iran says its program is for peaceful purposes.

Ashton also said the countries were "ready to engage with Iran in the context of implementing the understandings reached during the Geneva meeting of October 1, 2009."

In that meeting, Iran agreed in principle to ship most of its enriched uranium to France and Russia and in return, be provided with fuel rods for its research reactor in Tehran. The deal failed after Iran insisted that it would not export any uranium until it receives the fuel.

Implementation Of UN Sanctions

Today's statement added that the six countries would welcome a meeting of the Vienna Group, comprising France, Russia, the United States, and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's nuclear watchdog, to discuss technical elements of a revised fuel-swap agreement.

The failure of the October deal prompted a renewed push to level restrictions against Iran.

In June, after months of U.S.-led negotiations, the permanent members of the UN Security Council united to pass a fourth round of sanctions against the Islamic republic, targeting its banking and shipping sectors.

According to a senior U.S. administration official who conducted a background briefing for reporters, the six countries called for full implementation of those sanctions at today's meeting.

Earlier in the week, Iranian President Mahmud Ahmadinejad told reporters in New York that there was a "good chance" that talks with the West would resume in the near future.

Since the passage of sanctions, Western countries have repeatedly urged Iran to return to the negotiating table, but with little success.

Following the Security Council's move in June, the United States and the EU passed a series of unilateral sanctions against the Islamic republic, deepening restrictions against segments of the country's economy.

Those moves have irked Russia and China, who had agreed to UN sanctions only after satisfying themselves that the penalties would not harm the Iranian people or impact each country's trade relations.

Opposition To Unilateral Action

Speaking on September 21 at the UN, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called unilateral restrictions "reckless."

"We cannot but express our serious concerns regarding the continued practice of unilateral, coercive measures which are imposed in a voluntaristic or reckless manner by certain states against given developing states beyond what is stipulated in the UN charter or authorized by the UN Security Council," he said.

He spoke the same day that he so-called BRIC countries -- Brazil, Russia, China, and India -- discussed submitting a resolution to at the upcoming UN General Assembly rebuking countries that impose their own unilateral sanctions.

Matthew Rojansky, who is the deputy director of the Russia and Eurasia Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, says Russia has many reasons for opposing unilateral sanctions against Tehran.

He says that "the Russians signed up to the notion of UN sanctions as a specific package deal from their perspective, [in which] they got progress in the U.S.-Russia reset."

But they only agreed to the terms of the sanctions in the UN resolution, Rojansky says, adding that he doesn't think Moscow "[likes] the notion that the United States and Western Europe sort of jumped on that momentum and tried to push it further."

Although Russia does have business ties to Tehran, Rojansky says a more significant reason for Moscow's opposition is the possibility that Iran could insert itself in Russia's regional unrest.

"The issue is that Iran has a sort of Sword of Damocles hanging over Russia in the Caucasus," Rojansky says. "Iran could begin to much more substantially fund and arm Islamist insurgents operating either in the Caucasus or even potentially in Russia itself and threaten Russian more than it does today. The other side of that coin is Russia really doesn't currently feel threatened by Iran and so it's looking to keep that status quo exactly the way it is."

Late today, Iran's English-language state Press TV reported that an Iranian delegation headed by the country's Atomic Energy Organization chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, had met with IAEA chief Yukiya Amano in Vienna "to discuss providing fuel for the Tehran research reactor."

written by Richard Solash with agency material
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