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Iran renews nuclear promise, Straw says
Officials negotiating Iran's nuclear future left the table in an upbeat mood Wednesday, with Tehran renewing its vow to refrain from developing nuclear weapons and signaling it will pursue talks with Europe toward a final agreement on its atomic program.
British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw and other key European ministers met for three hours with Iranian negotiators under an implied threat that Tehran could be brought before the U.N. Security Council to face possible international sanctions over its suspected nuclear activities.
Iran also agreed to more talks this summer and Hasan Rowhani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, said, "We believe following the discussions today we could come to a final agreement within a reasonably short time."
Wednesday's talks were held after the EU warned that it was moving toward the U.S. position that Tehran should face a Security Council showdown. The United States has demanded since last year that Iran face sanctions for its nuclear program ¡ª but up to now the EU has used enticements instead.
The standoff began heating up after Iran announced last week it was considering restarting its uranium-enrichment program, which Tehran insists is only aimed at generating electricity as permitted under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer said the Europeans never had to resort to threats.
"I'm happy that it didn't come to that," he said, noting "we are still searching for an agreement to bridge the differences."
The Europeans agreed to present Iran with more proposals in about two months, Straw said, but declined to be specific.
Rowhani said the proposals would include economic, political and nuclear elements, and he would have to consult with Tehran.
In the Iranian capital earlier Wednesday, President Mohammad Khatami signaled the country's willingness to reach an agreement, saying: "We are ready to compromise, and we hope Europe makes its decision independently and not based on U.S. pressures."
Also in Tehran, some 200 Iranian students demonstrated in front of Western embassies, many wearing red headbands to symbolize their readiness to fight for Iran's right to have nuclear energy.
The two sides in Geneva said they were working on the basis of an agreement they reached last November in Paris. In that accord, Iran agreed to suspend uranium enrichment activities in return for British, French and German guarantees that Iran has the right to pursue a peaceful nuclear program.
"The Paris agreement remains in force to ensure that Iran continues its suspension of uranium-enrichment programs and other fuel-cycle activities," said Straw.
As long as the agreement remains in place, the Europeans won't take Iran to the Security Council, he said.
"We continue working in the spirit of Paris and from here on it will take us a few weeks to make concrete proposals with the goal of putting in place a civilian program," said French Foreign Minister Michel Barnier.
If Iran agrees to keep its program within bounds, the 25-member EU says it can expect economic and technical cooperation as well as support for joining the World Trade Organization.
In recent months, US President Bush has gone along with the European approach. In March, the Bush administration agreed to drop long-standing opposition to Iranian membership in the WTO.