Six world powers agreed Thursday on a package of incentives in a bid to persuade Iran to halt its nuclear program and said U.N. Security Council action against Tehran would be suspended if it agrees to stop enriching uranium.
"I am pleased to say that we have agreed a set of far-reaching proposals as a basis for discussion with Iran," said British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett after a meeting of the foreign ministers of the five permanent U.N. Security Council members: France, Britain, the United States, Russia and China, plus Germany. "We believe that they offer Iran the chance to reach a negotiated agreement based on cooperation."
No details of the package were immediately available.
Beckett said Security Council action against Iran would be suspended if Tehran agrees to stop uranium enrichment and reprocessing.
"We are prepared to resume negotiations should Iran resume suspension of all enrichment related and reprocessing activities as required by the IAEA, and we would also suspend action in the Security Council," she said.
However, "we also agreed that if Iran decides not to engage in negotiations, further steps would have to be taken in the Security Council," Beckett said. "So there are two paths ahead."
"We urge Iran to take the positive path and to consider seriously our substantive proposals which would bring significant benefits to Iran," she said, adding that they would now approach Tehran with the proposals.
The United States said Wednesday it would join direct talks with Iran if the Iranians agree to suspend uranium enrichment — a major reversal of a decades-long U.S. policy of avoiding formal high-level contact with Tehran.
The U.S. announcement was welcomed by diplomats as a much-needed boost to the protracted dispute over Iran's nuclear program.
But. "Iran welcomes dialogue under just conditions but (we) won't give up our (nuclear) rights," state-run television quoted Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki as saying earlier Thursday in Tehran.
"Even without specific commitments on sanctions from Russia and China, the agreement on a framework of incentives and disincentives presents a unified front to Iran and puts serious pressure on Tehran to come back to the bargaining table," CBS News foreign affairs analyst Pamela Falk said from the U.N. "It also may allow Iran a face-saving way to take another look at the offer of direct talks."
"What Iran is most interested in avoiding is being hauled again before the U.N. Security Council," Falk reported.
The United States and other countries accuse Iran of wanting the technology to make weapons-grade uranium for the core of warheads. Iran denies that, saying it only wants to generate power.
U.S. Presidentthat the standoff is headed for the U.N. Security Council if Tehran continues to refuse to halt uranium enrichment.
"We'll see whether or not that is the firm position of their government," Mr. Bush said after a meeting with his Cabinet at the White House. "If they continue their obstinance, if they continue to say to the world `We really don't care what your opinion is,' then the world is going to act in concert."
There had been mounting pressure from European allies, and the U.S. announcement on possible talks was also linked to U.S. expectations that Russia and China might support sanctions or other harsh measures if new talks fail to persuade Iran to permanently abandon nuclear efforts that the West fears could lead to a bomb, European diplomats said.
"The United States is going to take a leadership position in solving this issue," Mr. Bush said of the decision to engage Tehran if it meets the conditions on enrichment.
The offer to talk should strip Iran and some U.S. partners of the argument that the hard-line U.S. stance was an obstacle, or that Washington was not willing to try every means to resolve the impasse peacefully, U.S. officials said.
The United States has had no diplomatic ties with Iran and few contacts at all with its government since Islamic radicals took over the U.S. Embassy in 1979 and held diplomats there for more than a year.
French Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin said Thursday that Western powers that squabbled over Iraq will not repeat that mistake in their dealings with Tehran.
"It is the unity of the international community that will make all the difference," said Villepin, who as foreign minister in 2003 argued against the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the United States was not offering full diplomatic relations with Iran and would not swear off ever using military action to stop what the U.S. contends is a rogue program to build a nuclear weapon.
"This is not a grand bargain," Rice said. "What we're talking about here is an effort to enhance the chances for a successful negotiated solution to the Iranian nuclear problem."
Uranium enrichment can lead either to a bomb or to nuclear power production. Iran, which says it wants only to generate power, has so far insisted that it won't take any deal that involves giving up that technology.
At the United Nations Thursday, a study led by former U.N. chief weapons inspector Hans Blix called for outlawing nuclear weapons and reviving global cooperation on disarmament including security guarantees to curb the nuclear programs in Iran and North Korea.
"Hans Blix pointed his finger today at Iran, Israel, North Korea and the U.S., with a plan to back the world off nuclear brinksmanship," said Falk from the U.N. "His comprehensive plan to reduce weapons and bring about a nuclear free Middle East carries particular weight because he appears in hindsight to have been right in his assessments of pre-war Iraq."
The two-year probe by the independent Weapons of Mass Destruction Commission concluded that as long as any nuclear, chemical and biological arms remain in any country's arsenal, "there is a high risk that they will one day be used by design or accident" which would be "catastrophic."