- The Washington Times - Friday, June 2, 2006

VIENNA, Austria — Six world powers agreed yesterday to offer Iran a new choice of rewards if it gives up its suspected nuclear activities or punishment if it refuses, a gambit that could either defuse a global confrontation with the Islamic regime or hasten one.

“There are two paths ahead,” British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said in announcing agreement among the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China on a package for Iran that carries the threat of United Nations’ sanctions.

The package would be on the table for a proposed new round of bargaining with Tehran over what the United States and its allies call a rogue nuclear program that could produce a bomb.

After a meeting of officials from the six powers, Mrs. Beckett said, “We urge Iran to take the positive path” and promised to suspend Security Council action against Tehran if it agrees to halt enrichment.

At the White House, President Bush warned that the confrontation would end up at the U.N. Security Council if Iran continues to enrich uranium.

“If they continue their obstinance, if they continue to say to the world, ‘We really don’t care what your opinion is,’ then the world is going to act in concert,” Mr. Bush said after meeting with his Cabinet.

In a major policy shift, the U.S. agreed this week to join those talks if Iran suspends its uranium-enrichment program. It would be the first major public negotiations between the adversaries in more than a quarter century.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice met with the foreign ministers from Britain, France and Germany, the three European nations that led talks with Iran. Those talks stalled last year. Also present were representatives of Russia and China, which have been Tehran’s trading partners and could join in any future talks with Iran.

Because Russia and China hold vetoes in the U.N. Security Council, the U.S. needs their cooperation to seek sanctions or other harsh measures by that body.

“We are very satisfied by the results of today’s meetings here in Vienna,” U.S. Undersecretary of State R. Nicholas Burns told reporters. “We consider them a step forward in our quest to deny Iran nuclear-weapons capability.”

A short statement issued by foreign ministers from the six powers and the European Union did not mention economic sanctions — the punishment or deterrent favored by the United States and that Iran has sought to avoid.

The powers agreed privately, however, that Iran could face tough U.N. Security Council sanctions if it fails to give up the enrichment of uranium and other disputed nuclear activities, U.S. officials said.

Diplomats feared Iran would immediately reject any invitation to bargain if the threat of sanctions was explicit, officials involved in the discussions said on the condition of anonymity because the negotiations of the major powers were private.

The foreign ministers’ statement threatens unspecified “further steps” in the Security Council.

If Iran returned to the talks stalled since last year, “we would also suspend action in the Security Council,” Mrs. Beckett said.

The Security Council, which can levy mandatory global sanctions and back its mandates with military force, has been reviewing Iran’s case for two months. Its permanent, veto-holding members — U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China — have been at odds over the possibility of sanctions.

On Wednesday, Iran’s foreign minister welcomed the idea of direct talks with the United States but rebuffed the U.S. condition that Tehran first must suspend uranium enrichment.

“Iran welcomes dialogue under just conditions but won’t give up our rights,” the state-run Iranian television quoted Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki as saying yesterday.

Mr. Mottaki’s statement, issued as Miss Rice was arriving in Austria, was the country’s first direct reaction to the U.S. offer.

“We won’t negotiate about the Iranian nation’s natural nuclear rights, but we are prepared, within a defined, just framework and without any discrimination, to hold dialogue about common concerns,” he said.

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