BRUSSELS – Representatives of six world powers urged Iran on Friday to accept a U.N. plan aimed at delaying its ability to build a nuclear weapon, as the head of the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency warned Tehran not to miss the opportunity to resolve the dispute.
An EU official said there was no mention of imposing sanctions against Iran for its refusal to halt nuclear enrichment activities at the meeting of senior diplomats from the U.N. Security Council's five permanent members plus Germany.
"These things are a matter of timing, and this was not the right time for it," said the official who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The talks in Brussels involved political directors — foreign ministry officials below ministerial level. The United States was represented by Undersecretary of State William Burns, and Russia by Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.
The talks came just a day after a day after President Barack Obama said the six nations will develop a package of serious new punitive measures in coming weeks. He did not give details.
On Wednesday, Tehran indicated it would not export its enriched uranium for further processing, effectively rejecting the latest plan brokered by the International Atomic Energy Agency and aimed at delaying Iran's ability to build a nuclear weapon.
Under the IAEA plan, Iran would export its uranium for enrichment in Russia and France where it would be converted into fuel rods, which would be returned to Iran about a year later. The rods can power reactors but cannot be readily turned into weapons-grade material.
A statement issued by the political directors expressed disappointment over Iran's failure to engage in intensified dialogue since a promising meeting on Oct. 1 in Geneva. The West says Tehran agreed in principle to export that amount in one shipment during the Geneva talks — something Iranian officials have denied.
The statement also noted that Tehran had not responded positively to the IAEA proposal.
"We urge Iran to reconsider the opportunity offered by this agreement ... and to engage seriously with us in dialogue and negotiations," the statement said.
The officials said they would hold a follow-up meeting around Christmas.
In Berlin, Mohamed El-Baradei, the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency chief, pressed Iran to work with the international community.
"I would hate to see that we are moving back to sanctions," El-Baradei said. "Because sanctions, at the end of the day ... really don't resolve issues."
He said the IAEA had not yet received a formal reply from Tehran to its proposals, although Iranian officials had told him they would not send uranium for reprocessing abroad unless they first received promised fuel rods.
"Well, that to me is an extreme case of distrust," El-Baradei said. "And what we are really trying to do is replace distrust by a degree of trust."
Iranian Foreign Minister Manochehr Mottaki on Thursday played down the threat of sanctions saying embargoes had proved ineffective in the past and that he didn't believe they would be tried again.