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Six Powers And Arabs To Discuss Iran Issue

Britain's David Miliband said the six powers want to reach out to Arab states and other countries.
UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) -- The five permanent members of the UN Security Council and Germany will hold a rare meeting with Arab diplomats to discuss Iran's nuclear program, top diplomats from Britain and Russia have said.

Foreign Secretary David Miliband said the point of the meeting on December 16 is for the six powers, which have led negotiations on three rounds of UN sanctions against Iran for refusing to suspend its uranium-enrichment program, to discuss the concerns of Arab states about Tehran's atomic ambitions.

"Iran's nuclear weapons program is increasingly recognized as a threat to the whole region of the Middle East," Miliband said after a meeting of the UN Security Council on Zimbabwe.

"The development of a nuclear weapons program that kick-starts a nuclear arms race is the last thing the Middle East needs," he told reporters.

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

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

Miliband said the six powers -- Britain, the United States, France, China, Russia, and Germany -- want to reach out to Arab states and other countries to assure them that the Iranians are not victims of a "vendetta of the Security Council."

The Arab countries invited to the December 16 meeting are Iraq, Egypt, Jordan, and most members of the Gulf Cooperation Council. There are no plans for a briefing or statements afterward.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the point of the meeting was to allay concerns the Arab states might have about Iran's nuclear program and measures taken to resolve it.

"It is in everyone's interest and in their interest that there be no worsening of the situation in this area," he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and European Union foreign-policy chief Javier Solana are also expected to attend the meeting with Arab representatives.

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.

But diplomats from some of the six powers say the process of negotiating a new round of UN Security Council sanctions is on hold until President-elect Barack Obama takes office.

Obama, a Democratic, 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.

European diplomats have said that EU member states were considering expanding their sanctions by adding more firms and individuals to an EU blacklist of those suspected of helping Tehran with its nuclear and missile programs in violation.

Senior officials from the six powers are expected to meet in Europe after Obama's January 20 inauguration to discuss next steps on Iran, diplomats say.