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Big-Power Ministers Plan Berlin Meeting on Iran Sanctions


Foreign ministers of the five permanent U.N. Security Council countries and Germany convene in Berlin next week for another attempt to finalize new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program. Efforts to conclude a third sanctions resolution have stalled in recent months. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

U.S. officials stop short of predicting that the Berlin meeting, planned for next Tuesday, will yield a breakthrough on sanctions. But they say the ministers would not gather for just routine talks, and that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will try to use persuasion to break the impasse.

The six ministers agreed on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly last September to seek a new sanctions resolution, after Iran ignored a deadline to suspend uranium enrichment and related activities.

Last month, Secretary Rice acknowledged tactical differences with Russia and China about the timing and nature of further sanctions. The process has also been complicated by the December 3 U.S. intelligence assessment that Iran had a nuclear weapons program but stopped it in 2003.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose government will host the six-power talks, said Tuesday the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, or NIE, has slowed the sanctions process but that it is not an excuse to give Iran an "all clear" on its nuclear intentions.

Briefing reporters, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the NIE confirmed that Iran has had a nuclear weapons program and by no means forecloses the possibility that it might be resumed:

"It does not say Iran was not a threat in the past and will not be a threat if it continues to develop a nuclear weapon," he said. "That is our assessment - that they have been a threat, remain a threat and will be an even greater threat if in fact they continue along the pathway to uranium enrichment and maintain the possibility of developing a nuclear weapon."

McCormack said the NIE, a joint assessment of 16 U.S. intelligence agencies, concluded that Iran stopped its weapons program in 2003 because of diplomatic pressure, and thus shows that the Tehran government is susceptible to such pressure.

The Bush administration is pursuing a two-track strategy with regard to the Iranian nuclear program.

It backs increased sanctions if Iran fails to heed U.N. demands that it stop enrichment, but offers diplomatic and other incentives if it does comply, including aid for the country's civilian nuclear power program.

At a news conference in Riyadh Tuesday with Saudi Foreign Minister Saud al-Faisal, Secretary of State Rice reiterated that the United States does not have "permanent enemies," and that Iran has an open pathway to better relations with Washington.

"There are two Security Council resolutions that make clear what Iran must do," she said. "There is an IAEA Board of Governors resolution that states clearly what Iran must do in terms of its nuclear ambitions."

"No one, most especially the United States has tried to deny Iran peaceful nuclear energy. But enrichment and reprocessing is the fuel cycle, and perfection of the technology of that fuel cycle can lead also to knowledge of the technology that can lead to a nuclear weapon," she added.

Iran says its program has been, and is, entirely peaceful. The Tehran government told visiting International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei on Sunday it will answer all outstanding questions about its nuclear programs within four weeks.

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