European Nations, Iran to Resume Nuke Talks

With U.S. support, three European nations will meet early next week with Iran in a fresh effort to curb its nuclear activities, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw (search) said Tuesday.

He declined to predict the outcome at a joint news conference with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search), who blessed the diplomatic effort as "well-worth pursuing."

The talks likely will be held in Paris with Foreign Ministers Michel Barnier (search) of France and Joschka Fischer (search) of Germany joining him at the negotiating table, Straw said.

If they fail, the United States and the allies have agreed to take their concerns to the International Atomic Energy Agency's board in Vienna and probably then to the U.N. Security Council. These are steps "we will reluctantly but necessarily have to take," Straw said.

In the Security Council, the United States is virtually certain to push for economic and political sanctions against Iran, but the outcome is uncertain. Even if the allies support the Bush administration, China, which has veto power, is opposed in principle to sanctions to resolve disputes among nations.

And U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, in a recent interview with USA Today, predicted deadlock.

But Straw clearly was buoyed by U.S. support for pursuing negotiations even though past rounds have not been productive. A few years ago, he said, there were differences between the allies and the United States, but now "the United States has given us active support in this endeavor."

"There were many people around who were trying to say this would be another occasion of a split between Europe and America and so on," Straw said before winding up the news conference to have a working dinner with Rice. "Those people have been confounded."

Rice, meanwhile, declined to predict the next move in the dispute with Iran.

"I think we will see what comes next," she said. "We've obviously got the Security Council as an option for the international community," she said.

Hasan Rowhani, Iran's top nuclear negotiator, is expected to represent his government at the talks.

Iran has said it soon would resume conversion of raw uranium into a gas used for enrichment, a key step toward making nuclear warheads. But it has denied U.S. allegations that it wants to enrich uranium as part of a covert nuclear weapons program. Instead, Iran says its programs are designed to generate power.

The Europeans are insisting on a long-term freeze or even a pledge from Iran to scrap its nuclear activities in exchange for technical and economic aid, political support and guaranteed nuclear fuel supplies.