Major powers meet in Washington to tackle Iran
By Sue Pleming
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Major powers began talks in Washington on Monday to agree on strategy to tackle Iran's nuclear plans, including a third round of U.N. sanctions and inducements to get Tehran to drop its sensitive atomic work.
State Department spokesman Tom Casey said senior diplomats from the five permanent member of the U.N. Security Council -- China, Russia, the United States, France and Britain -- and Germany began their meeting at around 10:30 a.m. EST and the talks were expected to run for several hours.
"It's an opportunity to talk both about the current resolution, which has been put forward at the U.N. and we hope to see passed very shortly, as well as to look at additional steps that may be taken beyond this," Casey said.
"That certainly is both looking at the negative side of the ledger -- continued sanctions and continued efforts to respond to Iran's noncompliance with the international community's requirements -- as well as looking to the positive," he said.
He referred to an offer by major powers to Iran which included talks with the United States on any subject if Tehran suspended its enrichment of uranium, airline parts for civilian planes and dropping objections to entry to the World Trade Organization.
Iran, the world's fourth largest oil exporter, says its uranium enrichment is for generating electricity so that it can ship more oil and gas. It denies charges by the West that it seeks to build a nuclear bomb.
The six countries agreed in a meeting in Berlin last month to impose another round of U.N. Security Council sanctions against Tehran and the United States hopes the council will vote on the sanction resolution this week.
Some nonpermanent members of the Security Council such as Libya and South Africa have balked at more sanctions, and Russia and China would like to see more "carrots" than "sticks" offered to Tehran.
But asked on Friday whether the United States would consider offering more inducements, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said, "We like the current package."
With oil having touched $100 a barrel, some experts say Iran has a comfortable cushion and can stomach more sanctions, although other analysts say that Iran's banking sector has been particularly hurt by punitive measures.
Iran's Economy and Finance Minister Davoud Danesh-Jafari was quoted as saying his country's economy would not be hurt.
"New sanctions will not harm Iran's economy ... High oil prices will help Iran to compensate," Iranian students' news agency ISNA quoted the minister as saying.
The sanctions draft resolution, which has been formally submitted by France and Britain, includes asset freezes and mandatory travel bans for specific Iranian officials.
It also expands the list of Iranian officials and companies targeted by the sanctions. Earlier rounds of sanctions were imposed in December 2006 and March 2007.
(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; editing by Mohammad Zargham)