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Diplomats ponder new Iran sanctions

Ali Larijani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator

LONDON -- US and European diplomats prepared yesterday to consider possible new sanctions in the standoff over Iran's nuclear program, even as Iran's top nuclear negotiator again signaled that Tehran would be willing to engage in "constructive and logical" negotiations with the United States.

As representatives of the UN Security Council nations plus Germany met after Iran's latest refusal to halt its uranium enrichment efforts, there were signs that Iran's proposal to cap its enrichment at very low levels may be winning some support in Europe.

But strong opposition from the United States and Britain to anything less than a full suspension makes a deal at this point unlikely, according to analysts and diplomats familiar with the issue, and most were predicting a gradual ratcheting up of UN sanctions and a continuing impasse.

"They have made a series of miscalculations of how united the international community is," a British diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, said as international envoys met behind closed doors at the British Foreign Office. The meeting was triggered by Iran's failure to comply with a December UN Security Council resolution ordering Iran to suspend its enrichment program by Feb. 21.

"They're facing quite a bit of international pressure to get to the bottom of what they want to do, and why they want to do it. To get back to a negotiated solution to realize long-term [nuclear] activities, we want you to stop your enrichment activities now, and once that happens and is verified, we'll open up opportunities to have a renewed negotiation framework. But we can't have it the other way around," he said, speaking under standard diplomatic protocol of anonymity.

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, sent out positive signals for negotiations, which Iran has frequently said it is open to so long as there are no preconditions requiring an end to its enrichment program before talking.

"If the United States presents a request for negotiations through the official channels and it appears that these negotiations are constructive and logical, we are ready to examine this request with a positive eye," Larijani told Iran's official news agency.

Iranian analysts said Iran is hoping to win European support for an offer to cap enrichment at 4 percent, a level sufficient to manufacture nuclear fuel for power plants, which Iran insists is the goal of its nuclear program. The United States and other nations, who fear Iran is gearing up to build nuclear weapons, believe the technology to enrich these low levels of uranium could eventually be expanded to manufacture weapons-grade uranium.