Iran trying to weaken opposition
Updated: 2006-09-07 19:06

Iran's nuclear defiance is the thrust of Thursday's talks in Berlin by US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns and counterparts from the other five powers - Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.

In Denmark, meanwhile the European Union's foreign policy chief said Thursday he expects to hold nuclear talks with Iranian nuclear envoy Ali Larijani "in the coming days." Javier Solana did not give any details on the time or place of the meeting.

The talks are considered a final attempt to see if there is common ground to start negotiations between Iran and the six powers.

Larijani, meanwhile, was in Spain on Thursday for talks with Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero. U.N. Secretary-General

Kofi Annan is also in Spain for talks with Zapatero, but it was not immediately known if he and Larijani will meet.

Iran's unyielding stance appears to be based on the calculation that sanctions will be opposed by Russia and China, both veto-wielding Security Council members that have major commercial ties with Tehran.

On Wednesday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said any sanctions must exclude military force, suggesting Moscow was contemplating the possibility of sanctions but remained opposed to harsh and quick punishment.

Lavrov said the Security Council's recent resolution on the issue holds out the possibility of further measures on Iran such as economic penalties, banning air travel or breaking diplomatic relations, but not the use of armed force.

"This article envisages measures to exert influence on a country that is not cooperating, including economic ones, but it is written unambiguously there that this excludes any kind of forceful measures of influence," ITAR-Tass quoted him as saying.

U.S. and European diplomats have said they are focusing at first on low-level punishment such as travel bans on Iranian officials or a ban on the sale of dual-use technology, to win backing from Russia and China.

More extreme sanctions would be a freeze on Iranian assets or a broader trade ban, but those would likely be opposed by Russia, China and perhaps others, particularly since the trade ban could cut off badly-needed oil exports from Iran.

Iran insists it has a right to enrich for generation of nuclear power. But suspicions are growing it wants to develop the technology to enrich uranium to the weapons-grade level for the fissile core of nuclear warheads.