Britain's plan brings U.S. into talks with Iran

With the strategy being confidential, some diplomats are unaware of the plan.
VIENNA, Austria (AP) -- Britain has come up with a plan to bring the United States into new talks with Iran over its nuclear program and may float the idea Monday at a high-level diplomatic meeting outside the U.N. Security Council, a U.N. diplomat said Saturday.
With Washington now ready to meet with Iran over Iraq, any such plan put forward by a staunch ally may offer the Americans a face-saving way to talk to Tehran about its nuclear program after years of refusing direct contacts on the issue.
The diplomat, who is well-informed about international efforts to pressure Iran to make concessions on its nuclear program, spoke on condition of anonymity because the strategy was confidential. He said the British proposal would have the five permanent U.N. Security Council members sit at the same table with the Iranians, along with Germany.
The British are planning to make the proposal at a meeting of senior government officials from China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, the diplomat told The Associated Press.
What would be offered
They would offer Tehran a new package of unspecified incentives in exchange for a negotiated settlement on Iranian plans for uranium enrichment, the diplomat said.
A White House spokesman said Saturday he would not speculate on the possible outcomes of Monday's meeting. He said the United States will be discussing the issue further in the Security Council and with members of the international community, which has sent a clear warning to Iran about its pursuit of nuclear weapons.
Iran maintains its program is for generating electricity.
Any talks with U.S. involvement likely would need to focus not only economic but security guarantees meant to reassure Tehran that Washington has no plans to force regime change. Critics of U.S. policy have maintained for years that Tehran was unlikely to compromise on its nuclear program without such a direct guarantee.
While not discounting such a British plan, two other U.N. diplomats who have been following the issue less directly said they were unaware of it.
The idea for the new talks appeared to be emerging as a compromise only if there is no progress among the five permanent council members in agreeing on a strategy on Iran and if Tehran remained uncooperative, the one diplomat said.
Any such negotiations would begin by early summer, he added.
Earlier talks collapsed
Similar negotiations between Iran and France, Germany and Britain collapsed in August after Tehran rejected a basket of economic and political incentives offered in return for a permanent end to uranium enrichment, which it voluntarily suspended in 2004 under a deal with the Europeans.
Its subsequent moves to develop full-blown enrichment capabilities led the International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board to ask for Security Council involvement earlier this year. Uranium enrichment can create both fuel and the fissile core of nuclear warheads.
Any formal push by the British of such a plan is significant because they have been among the most stalwart backers of Washington's call for strong pressure to be applied to Tehran, including the possibility of Security Council sanctions.
If raised by Britain, the plan would put the Americans under some pressure to accept.
It is bound to be supported by Russia and China, which oppose any Security Council action beyond an appeal to Tehran to cooperate with the Vienna-based IAEA probe of its nuclear activities and to re-impose a freeze on uranium enrichment.
Germany too, would be expected to back such negotiations, leaving the Americans and French potentially isolated.
Still, such a British proposal might be welcomed by more moderate U.S. administration officials as a way of engaging Iran directly without losing face.
One of the diplomats suggested Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was prepared to consider such talks while senior Pentagon and U.S. National Security Council officials were opposed.
With talks stalled in the Security Council, moderate Bush administration officials might be ready to contemplate direct multilateral talks with Tehran similar to the six-nation talks with North Korea designed to get it to give up its nuclear arms aspirations.
Copyright 2006 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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