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Powers Wield Sanctions Threat After Iran Stalemate

Jalili (right) said any next meeting would only include talks on "common points of the package."
GENEVA -- Major powers have given Iran two weeks to answer calls to rein in its nuclear program or face tougher sanctions after talks ended in stalemate despite unprecedented U.S. participation.

A U.S. State Department spokesman said Washington hoped Iran now understood that it had a choice between cooperation and "confrontation, which can only lead to further isolation."

But prospects of ending a row that has triggered regional tensions and rattled oil markets looked dim as Iran's top nuclear negotiator insisted Tehran would not even discuss a demand to freeze uranium enrichment at the next meeting.

"We still didn't get the answer we were looking for," European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said after some six hours of talks in Geneva with Iran's Said Jalili and envoys from the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain -- the so-called sextet of world powers.

Solana said he hoped for a clear answer from Tehran in around two weeks to a month-old sextet offer of trade and technical incentives to halt enrichment.

Asked whether Tehran would otherwise face a new round of the UN Security Council sanctions that analysts say are already beginning to bite on its economy, he told a news conference that "the Iranians know very well what will continue to happen if nothing happens otherwise."

Diplomats said the presence of senior U.S. envoy William Burns at the talks underlined the unity of major powers in the dispute, and stressed that patience was running out with Iran.

"There is nothing more to talk about. The Iranians are running the risk of foreclosing their options," said one diplomat in Gevena, warning they risked "going down the path which means further measures in the EU and the UN."

In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, "We hope the Iranian people understand that their leaders need to make a choice between cooperation, which would bring benefits to all, and confrontation, which can only lead to further isolation."

The UN has imposed three sets of sanctions on Iran in a standoff that goes back to the revelation in 2002 by an exiled opposition group of the existence of a uranium-enrichment facility and heavy-water plant in the country.

Those political and economic sanctions already target the country's banks and include visa bans on officials and measures against companies seen as linked to the nuclear program.

Iran, the world's fourth-largest oil producer, rejects suspicions that it wants the atom bomb and says its nuclear program is intended to generate electricity.

Asked by Reuters after the July 19 meeting if Tehran would consider a demand to suspend enrichment as a precondition for full negotiations on its nuclear program, Jalili said: "We will only discuss common points of the package."

In a bid to kick-start those negotiations, world powers have also proposed that Tehran first freeze expansion of its nuclear program in return for the UN Security Council halting further sanctions measures. But a senior Iranian diplomat ruled that out, too.

"Of course we will not discuss the freeze-for-freeze topic in the next meeting with Solana," the diplomat said. "The freeze-for-freeze issue cannot be accepted because [enrichment] is our right and we will never abandon our nuclear right."

The high-level U.S. participation in the meeting, together with Iranian comments playing down the likelihood of an attack by the United States or Israel, had earlier in the week raised hopes of progress and helped lower oil prices from record highs.

Yet that optimism was tempered even before the meeting as both the United States and Iran insisted their policy would not change.

Iran Atomic Primer

Iran Atomic Primer

* Iran says it wants to build nuclear power plants so it can maximize exports from oil and gas reserves, the world's second largest.

* The IAEA says it cannot verify that Iran's program is wholly peaceful, nor that no clandestine, bomb-oriented work is going on somewhere, because Iran does not permit snap inspections anywhere beyond the declared sites.

* Iran insists it gives the IAEA appropriate access and notes that inspectors, after five years of sleuthing, have found no proof of a nuclear weapons program. U.S. intelligence services said Iran halted an outright nuclear weapons drive in 2003 but continues to develop relevant enrichment technology.

* Russia is working to complete Iran's first, and so far only, nuclear power plant, begun before the 1979 Islamic revolution, at Bushehr on its southwestern Gulf coast. It is designed to run only on Russian-produced fuel, according to a senior Western official in the Middle East.

* In 2002, an exiled Iranian opposition group revealed the existence of the underground Natanz facility in central Iran to enrich uranium, a process that can yield fuel for power stations or, if highly refined, material for nuclear warheads.


* Construction of two pressurized water nuclear reactors began in 1974 with German and French help. The two complexes were partially built before the 1979 revolution, when Western partners withdrew and the project was frozen.

* A Russian contract to resume construction was signed in 1995. Iran says Bushehr will be part of a power plant network planned to produce 20,000 megawatts by 2020. It says it intends to launch test runs at Bushehr this year.


* Iran's uranium ore processing plant at Isfahan, some 400 km (250 miles) south of Tehran, converts the mineral into hexafluoride gas, the form that is fed into centrifuge machines for enrichment into nuclear fuel.

* A nuclear technology and research centre in Isfahan is Iran's largest, employing up to 3,000 scientists.

* The processing site is under regular inspection by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.


* In the desert 230 kilometers south of Tehran, a vast subterranean hall contains some 3,600 centrifuges enriching uranium, more than 10 times the number spinning two years ago. Output remains well below industrial capacity -- making fuel in usable quantities -- but is gradually rising.

* Nearby is the above-ground pilot wing of Natanz where Iran is testing advanced models of centrifuges able to refine uranium 2-3 times faster than its current 1970s-era model. Iran aims eventually to operate more than 50,000 centrifuges in the underground plant to achieve industrial-scale enrichment.

* The Natanz complex is under IAEA monitoring.


* In 2006, Iran began work on a heavy-water production plant near Arak 190 kilometers southwest of Tehran. Western officials suspect Iran will covertly use spent fuel to make bomb-grade plutonium at a nearby reactor due for completion in 2009. Iran denies this, saying the Arak complex will only produce isotopes for medical and agricultural ends.

-- Reuters