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U.S. May Give EU Till June to Coax Iran on Nukes

VIENNA (Reuters) - In its drive to stop Iran gaining any ability to make nuclear weapons, the United States is ready to give European allies only until June to cajole Tehran before Washington seeks U.N. sanctions, U.S. diplomatic documents show.

There were mixed signals from Iran on Friday, over how its talks with Germany, France and Britain were going.

U.S. officials in Vienna circulated a position paper for discussion to members of the U.N. nuclear watchdog's governing board on Thursday, as President Bush concluded a tour of Europe in which he repeatedly praised European Union efforts to persuade Tehran to give up on enriching uranium.

Washington will not push the International Atomic Energy Agency to refer Iran's case to the Security Council when it meets next week and no condemnation of the Islamic republic are expected, diplomats on the 35-nation board told Reuters.

But the next quarterly meeting in mid-June will differ.

The draft position paper, seen in full by Reuters, shows Washington is ready to give EU-Iran negotiations until that meeting to achieve their aim. If they fail, it will renew its campaign to have the IAEA refer Iran to the Security Council.

Before the June meeting, the United States wants IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei to report again on Iran's nuclear program:

"We believe it is essential that the director-general provide to the board in advance of the June board meeting another comprehensive written report describing in full the IAEA's inspection activities in Iran," the document said.

"The board in June must then be prepared to take further action as needed," it added, a phrase diplomats said meant referral to the Security Council in New York.

The board of governors begins meeting on Monday to discuss the nuclear programs of Iran, Egypt and North Korea.

For the first time in nearly two years, ElBaradei has not submitted a written progress report on the IAEA probe of Iran to the board ahead of the quarterly meeting. In those two years, the agency has found no hard evidence disproving statements by Iran that its atomic ambitions are purely peaceful.

"Ultimately only the full cessation and dismantling of Iran's fissile material production efforts can give us any confidence that Iran has abandoned its nuclear weapons ambitions," the U.S. draft position paper said.

EUROPEAN NEGOTIATIONS

Washington questions why a country with Iran's vast reserves of natural gas and oil wants to develop nuclear power.

On the European Union's behalf, France, Britain and Germany have been trying to persuade Iran by offering trade and other economic benefits to abandon its program for enriching uranium -- a process that can provide both fuel or explosive material.

Tehran has temporarily frozen its enrichment program as a confidence-building measure but refuses to terminate it.

"Certainly cessation will have no place," Sirus Naseri, a senior Iranian delegate to the IAEA, told Reuters.

However, a senior British official told reporters in London on condition of anonymity the Europeans need an "objective guarantee" that Iran will not pursue atomic weapons.

"The only objective guarantee worthy of its name is a permanent cessation of fuel cycle activities," he said.

Tehran's chief negotiator, Hassan Rohani, predicted a fourth round of talks with the EU trio in March would yield positive results: "We are confident that with effective measures from all four sides, we can see a positive result in March," he said after talks with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.

But in comments published in the French newspaper Le Monde after a meeting in Paris on Thursday, he said talks were going slowly: "In a general, I note that the Europeans are incapable of coming good on their promises," he was quoted as saying.

Rohani also said Washington could do more to help the negotiations. During Bush's visit, European leaders tried to persuade him to join their diplomatic initiative.

The United States has so far refused to participate in a plan it believes is doomed to failure. But Bush said he would at least think about actively joining forces with the Europeans.

(Additional reporting by Madeline Chambers in London and Philip Blenkinsop in Berlin) 

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