UNITED NATIONS – The nations seeking to halt Iran's nuclear activities are working out a new deadline for the Islamic republic and have authorized the European Union's foreign policy chief to go anywhere at any time to meet Tehran's top nuclear negotiator.
Despite the possible new accommodations, diplomats said they're not willing to wait much longer for Iran to respond more definitively to their package of incentives to stop uranium enrichment.
Larijani and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana had been expected to meet on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly ministerial meeting this week, but British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said Wednesday she understood the Iranian nuclear expert would not be coming to New York.
"What we have done last night is to authorize Javier Solana to go anywhere at any time in order to facilitate a meeting with Larijani," Beckett said. "The Iranians do seem to have some quite extraordinary logistical difficulties, so perhaps Javier can overcome them by going to wherever it is that they can make themselves available."
The Iranians had canceled every meeting with Solana at least once, she said.
With world leaders gathered at the United Nations, the United States had hoped to move decisively this week toward political and economic sanctions against Iran after it missed an Aug. 31 U.N. Security Council deadline to halt uranium enrichment.
The oil-rich nation insists the program has the peaceful purpose of producing fuel for nuclear reactors that generate electricity. But the United States and other countries fear Iran's goal is to build a nuclear arsenal and transform the balance of power in the Middle East.
A dinner meeting Tuesday with Beckett, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and the foreign ministers of France, Russia, China, Germany and Italy produced little consensus about the next step, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said. He said the diplomatic effort to counter Iran was in "extra innings."
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said Wednesday that the nations leading efforts to halt Iran's uranium enrichment are working on a new deadline for Tehran to provide a more definitive response, despite differences over sanctions.
France also is pushing a compromise proposal that would have Iran suspend uranium enrichment at the same time as a Security Council suspension of all threats of sanctions.
Douste-Blazy suggested that the United States and others support the idea and said they were discussing a possible new timeline. He said he also discussed it with Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and the Iranian agreed that "time is an important factor."
The French minister gave no specific date, but a senior French diplomat said the nations involved in nuclear talks with Iran are mulling an early October deadline for Iran to agree to a simultaneous suspension of uranium enrichment and talk of sanctions.
"I'm not going to talk in terms of deadlines," Rice said Wednesday, but added, "This cannot go on for very much longer."
She also reiterated the U.S. position that Iran suspend enrichment before negotiations can begin.
Beckett would not discuss a possible new date, either.
"What we are looking for is a clear and sustained and concrete signal that Iran wishes to negotiate," she told reporters. "Our patience, I think, is not unlimited."
"If things just drag on as they have been, then as I say, there are concerns and constraints about how long that can continue," she said.
President Bush and French President Jacques Chirac claimed they were on the same page in dealing with Iran, and insisted there were no differences. But Washington is pushing for sanctions, while Britain and others are much more reluctant and want diplomacy to run its course.