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Diplomats Await Iranian Statement on Nuclear Intentions


Diplomats at the United Nations are awaiting a General Assembly speech Saturday by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that is expected to include new proposals to address concerns about his country's nuclear program. The International Atomic Energy Agency's governing board convenes a critical meeting on the issue Monday in Vienna.

The new Iranian president is making his international debut at this week's U.N. meetings, and diplomats say his address may determine whether European mediation over the nuclear issue continues, or the matter is referred to the Security Council.

Iran resumed uranium conversion work in August after rejecting a proposal from Britain, France and Germany offering it incentives to end nuclear activities the United States maintains are part of a covert weapons program.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan brokered a resumption of contacts between Iran and the EU-3 on the sidelines of the United Nations' world summit, with Mr. Ahmadinejad meeting the three countries' foreign ministers late Thursday.

The foreign ministers were non-committal about whether they heard anything from Mr. Ahmadinejad that would be a basis for resuming the talks, but said they were told to expect new ideas in the Iranian leader's Saturday message.

In comments at the U.N. thus far, Mr. Ahmadinejad, a political hardliner elected in June, has reiterated his country's long-standing contention that its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes only, while also alarming U.S. and other diplomats with an offer to share nuclear technology with other Islamic states.

The issue has been high on the agenda during U.S. diplomatic contacts this week including President Bush's White House meeting Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

The Bush administration has long supported a referral of the issue to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions against Iran, though senior U.S. diplomats concede there may not be enough votes for referral when the IAEA board convenes Monday.

In a talk with reporters in New York, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said regardless of the outcome in Vienna, an international consensus is building that will force Iran to return to talks with the Europeans:

"We expect there to be an IAEA meeting," he said. "We expect there to be a lot of discussion about the Iranians, and we expect ultimately the Iranians to listen to the will of the countries that are on the IAEA board of governors and return to the talks. That is a prediction that I would make about where this is going to end up."

At a joint media appearance with Mr. Putin Friday, President Bush said neither he nor his Russian counterpart want Iran, or North Korea, to have nuclear weapons.

The President said he is confident the issue will go to the Security Council if Iran does not live up to its agreements.

Mr. Putin, however, said diplomacy is far from exhausted and that Moscow opposes action that might aggravate the situation in the case of either Iran or North Korea.

In interview remarks with the New York Post released Friday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States is not against Iran becoming a technologically-advanced state, and accepts that it has right to a civilian nuclear power program.

At the same time, she said the United States does not want to see Iran have capabilities that lead to a nuclear weapon.

The United States has held out as a model a pending arrangement under which Russia will provide the nuclear fuel for a power reactor it is building for Iran at Bushehr on the Persian gulf, with a requirement that spent fuel is to be returned to Russia.