British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw says he and his French and German colleagues will meet Iranian officials next week in another effort to convince Tehran to curb its nuclear activities. Mr. Straw discussed the initiative in talks late Tuesday with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
Neither Mr. Straw nor Secretary Rice is characterizing next week's meeting as a last-ditch effort. But they both say that if the two-year-old European initiative fails, taking the matter to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions on Tehran looms as an option.
In a joint press appearance after talks with Ms. Rice, Mr. Straw said he, French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier, and their German counterpart Joschka Fischer had agreed to meet an Iranian team early next week, probably in Paris.
The so-called Euro-three sought the meeting after Tehran announced it would resume work on refining uranium in violation of an agreement last November to suspend enrichment activity while talks were underway.
Mr. Straw said if the talks fail, the Europeans are ready to send the matter back to the International Atomic Energy Agency's governing board, which in turn could refer it to U.N. Security Council:
"The E-Three [European-three] has made clear, including in a report to colleague foreign ministers, that we reserve the right to consider reopening the matter before the IAEA Board or referring the matter to the Security Council if we judged that is right, and the obligations on both sides of the Paris agreement and other previous agreements have not been met," said Mr. Straw. "The whole purpose of the negotiations with Iran is to try to avoid that circumstance in the context of ensuring that are objective guarantees about Iran's nuclear intentions."
The Bush administration has been openly skeptical of Iran's repeated assertions that its nuclear program is entirely peaceful, accusing it of running a covert weapons program.
But in her remarks here, Ms. Rice reaffirmed U.S. support for the European initiative, which offers Iran an array of economic incentives for scrapping suspect nuclear activity. She said it is well-worth pursuing in order, as she put it, to give Iran a chance to do what it needs to do:
"We have the closest possible consultation and discussion about what is going on in the relationship, in the negotiations," said Mr. Rice. "I think it's fair to say that a few months ago, before the President's visit to Europe, people believed that there was some distance between the United States and the European Three on how to deal with this problem. I believe we closed whatever perception of difference there might have been and indeed we've come to a united approach in dealing with Iran."
The Bush administration has offered its own incentives including an end to a ban on the sale of airliner spare parts to Iran, and ending opposition to Tehran's bid for World Trade Organization membership, to support the European effort.
The Tehran government said earlier Tuesday it held out little of hope reaching an agreement next week, saying the Europeans are hostage to what it termed a hard-line U.S. position.