- The Washington Times - Friday, February 13, 2009

Italy’s envoy to the United States suggested Thursday that nuclear negotiations with Iran now limited to major powers be expanded to include some of Tehran‘s largest trading partners, such as Japan and India, because of their stronger leverage.

Ambassador Giovanni Castellaneta said the negotiating format of the past four years with the U.S., Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany - known as “P5 plus 1,” a reference to the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council in addition to Germany - has not worked and needs to be changed.

“The ‘P5 plus 1’ approach didn’t give us the results we hoped for,” Mr. Castellaneta told editors and reporters at The Washington Times. “There are also some other countries - Japan, India, even the [Persian] Gulf states and Canada,” which could maintain pressure on Iran more effectively.

The West has been trying to persuade Tehran to suspend enriching uranium, saying it is meant to be used to build a nuclear weapon. Iran insists that its nuclear program is strictly civilian. The six negotiating countries have been pursuing a two-track approach - offering Iran incentives to stop enrichment while imposing sanctions until it does.

Three rounds of U.N. sanctions, however, have failed to change Tehran’s mind.

Mr. Castellaneta said Italy is Iran’s largest trading partner in Europe because of imports of oil and gas products. Trade in many other areas has been affected by the U.N. sanctions, and currently “we don’t have any major company” investing in Iran, he added.

He welcomed the Obama administration’s offer to talk directly to the Iranian government without preconditions, which he said should make a difference during any future negotiations. The Bush administration had said it would talk to Iran only after it suspends enrichment.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton also mentioned the Gulf states last week in a reference to engaging more countries in putting pressure on Tehran.

Italy, which holds the presidency of the Group of Eight leading industrialized countries this year, could make the Iranian nuclear issue part of the G-8 agenda, Mr. Castellaneta said.

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