Rice Hints U.N. May Step in on Iran


Wednesday May 24, 2006 11:46 PM

WASHINGTON (AP) - Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said talks Wednesday on perks and penalties meant to stop Iran from pursuing nuclear activities that the West fears could produce a bomb produced ``good progress,'' suggesting the United Nations could act soon if Tehran remains defiant.

Meanwhile, the possibility of direct talks between Iran and the United States appeared distant despite back channel overtures from Iran and additional pressure on Washington from its negotiating partners and others.

Diplomats from the United States and other veto-holding members of the U.N. Security Council met in London on Wednesday to review a package of incentives and threats that European nations could present to Iran. The deal is not final, but Rice indicated it is close.

``The London meeting had good progress,'' Rice told reporters. ``We did not expect them to finalize all matters and they are still working on some matters.''

The foreign ministers of the six nations must give final approval to any package. Rice said ministers may meet very soon, but she offered no details.

She spoke following a meeting with the head of the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency. International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohammed ElBaradei told reporters the United States alone must decide if it wants to sit down for direct talks with Tehran, something the Bush administration has rejected as premature at best.

White House press secretary Tony Snow ruled out direct talks at least until Iran ends all uranium enrichment, which Iran has refused to do, and allows international inspections.

``When that happens, all right, then there may be some opportunities,'' Snow said. But he would not elaborate. ``I'm going no further,'' he said.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Iran has been showing interest in holding talks with the United States through intermediaries, but the U.S. has not replied.

ElBaradei met with Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani several days ago, and said he described to Rice ``the Iranian point of view, which is rather different from the U.S. point of view.''

ElBaradei is among a long list of diplomats, former diplomats and leaders who have said that U.S.-Iranian talks could defuse the standoff over Tehran's nuclear program.

``If negotiations were to move in the right direction, particularly when the discussions of security were to start, I would hope the U.S. would be able to join them,'' ElBaradei told reporters after his State Department meeting.

The Security Council hit an impasse soon after taking up Iran's disputed nuclear program in March. Russia and China have opposed calls by the United States, Britain and France for a resolution that could bring sanctions and that is enforceable by military action.

Diplomats told the AP before the meeting that a compromise would be considered that would drop the automatic threat of military action but still pack the threat of sanctions if Iran remains defiant.

Russia and China have opposed calls by America, Britain and France for a resolution enforceable by military action.

If Iran remains defiant, the proposal called for a Security Council resolution imposing sanctions under Chapter VII, Article 41 of the U.N. Charter. But it avoided any reference to Article 42 - which is the trigger for possible military action to enforce a resolution.

And it calls for new consultations among the five permanent members on any further steps against Iran. That is meant to dispel past complaints by the Russians and Chinese that once the screws on Iran are tightened, it would automatically start a process leading to military involvement.