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Key Nations to Pursue Rapid Resumption of Iran Talks

An Iranian technician is shown at the nation's uranium conversion plant near Isfahan in 2007. Six leading governments on Wednesday pledged to pursue a rapid resumption of nuclear talks with Iran (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi). An Iranian technician is shown at the nation's uranium conversion plant near Isfahan in 2007. Six leading governments on Wednesday pledged to pursue a rapid resumption of nuclear talks with Iran (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi).

A group of six major governments on Wednesday resolved to launch new discussions with Iran in the shortest achievable time frame, a new signal of intensified international concern over an entrenched atomic standoff with the Middle Eastern country, Reuters reported.

"Necessary contact" with Tehran would take place "in the coming days," the six nations indicated. The specifics of any agreement reached on Wednesday were uncertain. Their gathering in Brussels, Belgium, was expected to focus on strategy coordination in advance of a potential new discussion with Iran, according to the news organization.

An altered diplomatic approach is under consideration by the powers -- China, France, Germany, Russia, the United Kingdom and the United States -- for addressing global fears that Iran's atomic efforts are geared toward development of a nuclear-weapon capability. Tehran, which insists its nuclear ambitions are purely peaceful, has joined three high-level gatherings with the nations so far this year.

An informed high-level Western government insider said the session aimed "to coordinate on what kind of offer we are going to go forward with to Iran." Submission of a new proposal could take place at a forum that European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton might organize to take place within months in Istanbul, Turkey.

"(The six powers) remain united in their efforts to seek a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue," Reuters quoted an Ashton spokesman as saying after the meeting on Wednesday.

The conclusion of the U.S. presidential race allows space for further discussions, according to Reuters. Envoys for Western powers hope to rapidly resume exchanges amid indications of Iranian moves to augment its atomic assets, the news agency said.

Israel has floated the possibility of launching a unilateral armed offensive against Iranian atomic installations, but specialists have said any such move is improbable before Israeli voting takes place on Jan. 22.

"There certainly is a window to do a deal, but that window is closing, and closing fast. Ultimately it depends on the Iranians meeting their international obligations," said Ariel Ratner, a one-time State Department insider under the Obama administration.

Former Obama White House nonproliferation official Jon Wolfsthal said "there might just be room for a deal" now that international steps against Iran have intensified and the U.S. political environment has grown more accommodating.

"Sanctions relief has to be on the table at some point, but Iran has to be able to get to 'yes,'" Wolfsthal added.

In previous multilateral meetings held this year, the five permanent U.N. Security Council member nations and Germany have pressed Iran without success to end all production of 20 percent-enriched uranium -- its highest declared level of refinement -- and to relinquish stocks of the higher-level material. Bomb-grade uranium has an enrichment level of roughly 90 percent.

"The key is sequencing the significant steps," Eurasia Group analyst Cliff Kupchan said, referring to the need to time prospective actions in a manner that addresses Western concerns over any curbs on economic penalties while prompting desired moves from Tehran. "My guess is that's what they (the six powers) will discuss."

One high-level Western envoy added: "We want to try to give Iran incentives to meet its obligations, but Iran will also have to take steps as well. We will see what they are willing to do."

"It is looking to see what we can do to help bring Iran back to the negotiating table to negotiate seriously," the insider said in remarks reported by Agence France-Presse. "There is the pressure side of it, but we also want to see what it is we can do to bring them back to the negotiating table."

Another Western diplomatic insider suggested "most parties are coming to the table with the realization that we have to consider what is on offer.

"I think we have realized that with what was on offer, and what Iran was prepared to accept, there was no meaningful middle ground," the official said. "We need to find that middle ground. ... I think that everyone is coming in with their eyes open, I think the (six powers) are realizing that they have to do something more creative."

Meanwhile, comments issued on Tuesday by International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano have bolstered the position that Iran has not altered its atomic policies in response to new punitive financial actions, Reuters reported.

"We are verifying the activities at the nuclear sites in Iran and we do not see any effect. They are, for example, producing enriched uranium up to 5 percent and 20 percent with a quite constant pace," Amano said.

Last week's IAEA safeguards assessment points to the difficulty of winning atomic concessions from Tehran, according to Reuters. A high-level Western government insider in Vienna, Austria, said the document is "very troubling."

Iranian central bank chief Mahmoud Bahmani said the nation's gold holdings, elevated petroleum sales prices and cutbacks in acquisition of goods from other nations have prevented a "serious dent" to Iran's financial standing, Reuters reported.

Elsewhere, Iran's navy is set to conduct a large-scale practice maneuver in the Iranian month starting on Dec. 21 and ending on Jan. 20, Tehran's Press TV quoted service chief Rear Adm. Habibollah Sayyari as saying on Wednesday. The exercise, called "Velayat 21," would demonstrate Iran's powers and its capacity to ward off aggression, he said.


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