Foreign Ministers of the five permanent U.N. Security Council member countries plus Germany will meet in Europe next week to consider Iran's response, if any, to their offer of incentives for Tehran to end uranium enrichment. The major powers have called for an answer to the initiative by this Wednesday.
The State Department's third-ranking official says the so-called P Five Plus One will meet in Europe July 12, and if the Iranians have not agreed by then to suspend sensitive nuclear activities the major powers will consider punitive action.
Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicolas Burns confirmed the meeting plans in an interview with the U.S. public television channel C-SPAN to be broadcast next weekend.
He gave no venue for the meeting, bringing together Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and her foreign minister colleagues from Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, but other officials have cited Paris as a possible site.
At a meeting in Moscow last week, Rice and other ministers of the G-8 group of industrial powers gave Iran until this coming Wednesday to respond to the nuclear offer, though the Burns remarks suggested that the July 12 meeting is now the de-facto deadline for an Iranian reply.
Iran was formally presented with a package of proposals from the P Five Plus One on June 6, offering it political and economic incentives in return for halting uranium enrichment and related activity and returning to negotiations over its nuclear program.
Although it was not part of the package presented in Tehran by European Union chief diplomat Javier Solana, the major powers have also said Iran would face penalties starting with U.N. Security Council action if it turns down the deal.
The Tehran government has said it is considering the offer but has rejected deadlines for an answer, with President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad saying recently a response would not come until late August.
In his comments to the C-SPAN network, Burns said if there is no Iranian action by July 12, Iran would be facing enormous pressure from the international community.
He did not discuss specific consequences but said the six powers would have to, in his words, draw their own conclusions and probably consider options for action by the Security Council.
Though they are parties to the offer to Iran, Russia and China have resisted the notion of a Security Council resolution that could open the way to economic sanctions or military action against Tehran.
In the interview, Burns would not say if he thought Moscow and Beijing were any closer to the U.S. position on punitive steps than they were two months ago.
However, he said there is a great deal of frustration among the major powers about the Iranian attitude, and noted the Russia joined in the G-8 statement last week expressing disappointment over the lack of an Iranian response to that point.
Burns, the State Department's lead negotiator on the so-called carrots and sticks offer, said there is a consensus among the P Five Plus One nations that Iran must come up with an adequate response, and that his sense and hope is that Iran will realize how diplomatically isolated it is on the issue.
Burns acknowledged under questioning that Iran may not provide an unequivocal answer and give a counter-proposal. But he said the United States and its partners are not interested in negotiations about negotiations, and that Washington will not sit down at the bargaining table with Tehran until it meets the condition of full suspension of enrichment-related activities.
While the United States has long believed that Iran has a covert nuclear weapons program, Tehran maintains that its nuclear activities are peaceful and that it has a right to enrich uranium for civilian nuclear power plants.