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    Major Powers Seek Accord on Iran Nuclear Issue in Paris

    Senior diplomats from the five permanent United Nations Security Council member countries and Germany convene in Paris Tuesday to seek consensus on U.N. action on Iran's nuclear program. The United States wants a binding council resolution demanding that Iran halt uranium enrichment.

    The Paris talks, at the political-director level, will be prelude to a ministerial meeting of the same countries May 9 in New York that looms as a critical juncture in the confrontation over Iran's nuclear program.

    Iran has ignored a non-binding president's statement by the Security Council calling on Tehran to cease uranium enrichment and related activity and return to negotiations over its nuclear program.

    Despite Iranian denials, the United States maintains that Iran's nominally-peaceful nuclear program masks a covert weapons project.

    State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said the United States will press the other parties in Paris - Russia, China, Britain France and Germany - to support a Chapter Seven resolution under the U.N. charter that would legally require Iran to freeze enrichment activities.

    He said the United States will defer a call for sanctions against Iran until a follow-on resolution, if one is required. "I wouldn't expect at this point that the first resolution, the first Chapter Seven resolution that you see on this, would include sanctions. Again, what it is intended to do is compel Iranian behavior, to put down a marker, to have the international community and specifically the Security Council put down a marker that the Iranian regime is now compelled by the force of international law to comply with the demands of the I.A.E.A. and the presidential statement," he said.

    Veto-wielding council members Russia and China have opposed the use of sanctions against Iran, and have also signaled opposition to a Chapter Seven resolution, which has been used in the past to justify sanctions or military action.

    Though it has refused to rule out the use of force, the Bush administration has said its focus is on resolving the Iranian nuclear issue through diplomacy.

    Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns, who will represent the United States in Paris said late last week the confrontation with Tehran is leading to a sanctions regime, but not necessarily in the coming few weeks.

    Burns and other U.S. officials have said if sanctions are unattainable in the Security Council, the United States and allies in Europe and elsewhere would seek their own sanctions package including visa restrictions and asset freezes aimed at top Iranian officials.

    President Bush took a personal hand in Iran diplomacy Monday, telephoning Russian President Vladimir Putin and stressing the importance, according to a White House spokesman, of preventing Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons.

    The issue will also be high on the agenda at White House talks later this week between the President and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

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