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Europeans Hold Nuclear Talks with Iranian President at UN

Key European Union foreign ministers met Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the United Nations in New York Thursday in a new bid to resolve the political impasse over Iran's nuclear program. The Iranian leader is expected to announce new proposals in a U.N. General Assembly speech Saturday.

The French, German and British foreign ministers met for about a half-hour with the Iranian President in a new effort to revive the European dialogue with Iran on the nuclear issue.

But there was no sign of a breakthrough, with the ministers of the E.U.-Three saying they are awaiting Mr. Ahmadinejad's policy speech here Saturday for an indication of where the effort might be headed.

Iran backed out of a nuclear freeze agreement it reached with the Europeans last November and has resumed uranium conversion activity, prompting calls by the United States among others for the International Atomic Energy Agency to refer the matter to the U.N. Security Council.

But both European and U.S. diplomats say it would still be preferable if the issue could be resolved in renewed talks between Iran and the E.U.-Three. The Europeans have offered Iran a package of economic and security incentives if the Iranians would halt sensitive nuclear activities that the United States believes are part of a covert weapons effort.

In a talk with reporters after the late-afternoon meeting with Mr. Ahmadinejad brokered by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called the 25-minute session useful but did not elaborate.

His German counterpart, Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer, said the three ministers will examine the content of Saturday's Iranian U.N. speech to determine prospects for renewed dialogue. "We explained again that the European position is unchanged," said Mr. Fischer. "Iran knows our position, our draft, our proposal is on the table and we are waiting now for the announced new proposal of the Iranian president. And he will do that on Saturday, and then we will examine these new proposals and see in which direction we can move. Hopefully we will have a positive direction but I can't predict that."

The governing board of the IAEA convenes in Vienna on the Iranian nuclear issue next week. On the sidelines of the U.N.'s world summit here, U.S. diplomats have been talking with other members of the IAEA board about taking the issue to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

The diplomatic contacts led by President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice have encountered resistance from some key world powers, notably China and Russia.

However in a talk with reporters, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns minimized the differences and said there is an across-the-board consensus, in his words a strategic agreement among U.S. dialogue partners, that Iran should not develop nuclear weapons. "There may be, there is a difference with some of these countries over tactics. Tactics are less important in this case than the strategy," said Mr. Burns. "And so we are convinced that Iran is going to find itself in an increasingly-isolated state, and that it would behoove the Iranians to listen to what people are saying. We have not heard a single country this week defend the Iranian government for having ruptured, unilaterally the negotiations with the European-Three. Not a single country has defended them. Nor do we expect any country to come forward to defend them."

Mr. Burns, the State Departnment's third-ranking official, said he expects Iran ultimately to heed the will of the IAEA board's members and return to the talks with the Europeans.

Mr. Ahmadinejad, an Islamic hardliner elected in June and making his international debut at the U.N. meetings, has reiterated Iran's stand that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only.

He was quoted by Iran's news agency as saying at a meeting with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan Thursday that Iran in no way seeks weapons of mass destruction, but is ready transfer nuclear technology to other Islamic countries.