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UN Members Meet in London Over Iran Nuclear Sanctions


Senior officials from the U.S., Britain, China, France, Russia and Germany met Monday in London to discuss tightening sanctions against Iran. A statement issued after the closed door meeting said all are committed to seeking a negotiated settlement and would consult again later in the week on the issue. The discussions follow last week's report by the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency, the IAEA, that Iran had failed to meet U.N. demands to halt its nuclear program. VOA's Sonja Pace reports from London.

Prime Minister Tony Blair's spokesman described the London meeting as a "preliminary exercise" to discuss the next steps against Iran for failing to halt its uranium enrichment program.

Iran analyst Alex Bigham, of London's Foreign Policy Center, tells VOA the meeting sends a signal to Tehran and takes stock of current positions.

"It [the meeting] is really a chance for officials to get together to get a sense of where each government is on this," said Alex Bigham.

The United Nations imposed a set of sanctions in December, including barring the transfer of know-how and materials that might help Iran's nuclear and missile programs.

Subsequently, Iran was given a new deadline of February 21 to halt its uranium enrichment program. But just last week the IAEA reported that Iran had not complied and had instead stepped up its nuclear activity.

Through it all, Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has remained defiant - insisting that all of Iran is steadfastly behind the country's nuclear rights and will defend them to the end.

The president has also described Iran's nuclear program as unstoppable and with no reverse gear.

The response from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was not long in coming.

"They don't need a reverse gear, they need a stop button," said Condoleezza Rice.

Iran insists its nuclear program is for peaceful energy purposes only, but many countries, including the United States, believe its real aim is to develop nuclear weapons.

Speaking Sunday on the American Fox News television channel, Rice again said that Washington is willing to talk to Iran, but on one condition.

"They need to stop enriching and reprocessing and then we can sit down and talk about whatever is on Iran's mind," she said.

On Monday, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, repeated that Tehran is also ready for talks, but without preconditions.

At this point neither side seems inclined to back down and tensions between Washington and Tehran are rising.

The United States has sent two aircraft carriers to the Persian Gulf, significantly beefing up its military capability in the area. On Sunday, Iran announced the launch of a new rocket that reached the edge of the orbit stage for space flight.

And, while the Bush administration continues to stress its preference for a diplomatic solution, Vice President Dick Cheney has again said all option remain on the table.

Investigative journalist Seymour Hersh has written in the New Yorker magazine that the Bush administration is preparing for a possible attack against Iran and has set up a special Pentagon unit to make the necessary plans. The Pentagon and White House deny plans for an attack.

Alex Bigham says it would be no surprise for Washington to have contingency plans for an attack against any number of countries, but he says an attack on Iran could have far-reaching consequences.

"There is an increasing number of troops and personnel in the region," he said. "So, there is a worrying move in that direction. And, certainly the consequences of such action would be fairly disastrous for the region."

Bigham says if the United States were to launch an attack, Iran could retaliate against American and British troops in Iraq, against western targets elsewhere in the region and with support for terrorist attacks in Europe.