The State Department said Thursday foreign ministers of the five permanent U.N. Security Council member countries and Germany will likely meet next week to seek final agreement on a strategy to curb Iran's nuclear program. Senior diplomats of the six countries held talks on the issue Wednesday in London but failed to reach a consensus.
Officials here say the London meeting of political directors of the P-Five Plus-One grouping made progress on a combined nuclear overture to Iran.
But they say an agreement will require further talks, including a ministerial-level meeting likely to be held late next week somewhere in Europe.
The major powers hope to be able to present Iran soon with a package of incentives for it to end nuclear activities the United States and some European allies believe are weapons-related.
If Iran rejects the incentives, the joint strategy would provide for a series of punitive measures including a binding U.N. Security Council resolution against Iran followed by economic and diplomatic sanctions.
At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said there were remaining differences among the parties on both the incentives and penalties in the proposed package but insisted that headway was being made:
"They made good progress. But in the words of a former Secretary of State 'nothing's done until everything's done.' So while we are pleased with the progress made in London, we don't have a completed package yet. There are still some issues to work out, and we are hopeful that we will be able to work through those issues," McCormack said.
U.S. officials have not been specific about the differences, though the Bush administration has made clear its opposition to European suggestions the incentives package should include security guarantees for Iran.
Russia and China meanwhile have signaled opposition to a Security Council resolution that would threaten sanctions against Tehran and be enforceable by military action.
Spokesman McCormack said U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicolas Burns and the other political directors will hold a telephone conference next Tuesday to discuss outstanding issues and lay groundwork for the foreign ministers' meeting.
A senior official here said if the ministers reach agreement on terms of the package, they would discuss modalities for formally conveying it to the Tehran government.
Iranian officials, who insist their nuclear program is entirely peaceful, have been dismissive of what's being termed the carrots and sticks approach by the major powers.
They say Iran has a right to develop a full nuclear fuel cycle and will not end uranium enrichment, which would be a central requirement of the incentives offer.