Major powers give Iran until early October to accept nuclear deal
The major powers have given Iran a new deadline of early October to suspend uranium enrichment and begin negotiations on a package of rewards for stepping back from a nuclear showdown, a senior European diplomat said Wednesday.
The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany and Italy agreed at a meeting late Tuesday to give European negotiators more time to convince Iran to give up its enrichment program before seeking sanctions against Tehran as called for under a UN resolution.
But the meeting set a deadline of early October for success in the negotiations between European foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani, the diplomat said.
Speaking Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said the major powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Italy, Russia and the United States -- agreed that Iran must respond rapidly.
"We must have a response fairly quickly," he said, "it's becoming urgent."
At Tuesday's meeting, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice backed away from the long-standing US position that Iran should face sanctions immediately for failing to meet an August 31 UN deadline for suspending its uranium enrichment.
At the urging of Washington's partners, she agreed to permit a new round of negotiations between Solana and Larijani in hopes of convincing Tehran to meet the UN demand, US officials said.
If Iran suspends its enrichment, which Washington and others believe is aimed at producing nuclear weapons, Rice said she would personally attend the launch of direct negotiations with Tehran aimed at rewarding the Islamic republic for winding down its nuclear program.
But Washington also got its partners to agree to the new deadline for imposing sanctions if Iran stands firm, according to senior US and European officials who were present at the meeting.
The US officials declined to reveal the new deadline, but the European diplomat said Solana would be given until the first week of October to achieve results in his talks with Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani.
Douste-Blazy said Tuesday's meeting had agreed on the need to give Iran one more chance to reach a negotiated settlement of the dispute.
"We all thought that we had to avoid confrontation and do everything possible to pursue a dialogue ... while also avoiding a situation where the Iranians, through meeting after meeting, are able to play for time and we end up with a fait accompli" of an Iranian nuclear weapons program, he said.
Douste-Blazy was due to meet Iranian Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki later Wednesday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, a diplomat said.
At the same time, however, chances of a quick breakthrough in the standoff dimmed with the announcement that Larijani would not meet with Solana in New York this week as expected.
Instead, Larijani and Solana agreed in a telephone conversation to hold talks next week in an unidentified European capital, the official Iranian news agency reported in Tehran.
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