Condoleezza Rice Meets With European Diplomats Over New Iran Sanctions

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday the United States, European and Russian diplomats have a common goal to encourage Iran back to the bargaining table over its disputed nuclear program.

"We reconfirmed we will use available channels and the Security Council to try to achieve that goal," the top U.S. diplomat said. Rice spoke following a breakfast meeting with her counterparts from Germany, Russia and the European Union.

The group reviewed Iran's compliance with a U.N. Security Council demand that it stop enriching uranium, a key step toward producing either nuclear power or a nuclear weapon.

The U.N. nuclear watchdog finalized a report that is to be released Thursday and is expected to formally confirm the Islamic republic's refusal to freeze enrichment.

Officials at the International Atomic Energy Agency said the report — by Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the Vienna-based agency — would say that Iran has expanded enrichment efforts instead of freezing them.

Such a finding would be a step toward additional sanctions, but it was not clear whether U.N. Security Council members Russia and China would go along.

Rice said she and her counterparts made no decisions Thursday because they met before ElBardei's report was released. Rice headed back to the United States immediately after the breakfast meeting.

Iran has called for talks with the United States — but has not budged on council demands that it mothball its enrichment program.

Enriched to a low level, uranium is used to produce nuclear fuel but further enrichment makes it suitable for use in building an atomic bomb. The West claims the Islamic republic intends to build a bomb with enriched uranium. Iran says it merely wants to develop peaceful nuclear power.

In moderate remarks Wednesday directed at Washington — the key backer of tougher U.N. action — Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the dispute "has to be decided peacefully with the United States."

But other top Iranian officials used harsher language, and none showed signs of compromise on the main demand of the U.S. and other world powers — a halt to enrichment and related activities.

"The enemy is making a big mistake if it thinks it can thwart the will of the Iranian nation to achieve the peaceful use of nuclear technology," Iranian state TV's Web site quoted President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as saying Wednesday.

Rice said last week that the United States probably would press for another U.N. resolution condemning Iran for continuing to defy the U.N. demand to stop enriching uranium, and to seek additional penalties against Tehran.

The Security Council set a 60-day deadline on Dec. 23 for Iran to freeze its enrichment activities and said continued Iranian defiance past that ultimatum, which ran out Wednesday, could lead to stronger punishment.

The U.N. is demanding an immediate and unconditional stop to uranium enrichment, after which European-led negotiations over an economic reward package might begin. Iran has long insisted it will not stop its nuclear activities as a condition for negotiations to start.

"The best course would be for Iran to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities so that we can return to negotiations," Rice told reporters Tuesday. "That is the entire purpose of having the pressure on the Iranian regime, so that the Iranian regime can make better choices about how to engage the international community."

In Washington, a top State Department official said Iran was in a "diplomatic pincer movement" that could force it to resume negotiations.

Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said only a handful of countries were backing Iran in its defiance of the U.N. Security Council. Burns said Iran was beginning to feel economic pressures as well, citing in particular a sharp decline recently in export credits from Europe.

Burns spoke Wednesday night to a meeting of the Atlantic Council, which advocates close ties between the United States and Europe.