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EU, six nations postpone action on new Iran sanctions

Await response to questions on nuclear program

NEW YORK - Six key nations and the European Union agreed yesterday to delay until November a new UN resolution that would toughen sanctions against Iran, waiting to see if Tehran answers questions about its disputed nuclear program.

A joint statement from the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France, and Germany with EU support said they would finalize the new resolution and bring it to a vote unless reports in November from the chief UN nuclear official and the European Union's foreign policy chief "show a positive outcome of their efforts."

The United States, Britain, and France had been pushing for new sanctions now to pressure Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, but Russia and China wanted to give Tehran more time to comply with UN inspectors.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denied, however, that the agreement was tantamount to a cave-in by the United States, which has been pushing for new sanctions for months.

"We've made very clear that we've always wanted to keep the two tracks under way." she told reporters, referring to both negotiations and the threat of sanctions. "We will be watching to see what progress takes place."

Nicholas Burns, the State Department's number three diplomat, conceded that "the alchemy of this group is such that anything is going to be a compromise" but insisted the statement sent "a very tough and strict message to Iran."

Burns said the United States regards the agreement as a commitment by all six countries to support a third sanctions resolution if the reports do not confirm a positive Iranian response. But UN diplomats cautioned that what constitutes a positive response may differ.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who has warned that Iran must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons, called yesterday's ministerial meeting "a success."

However, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that the statement's intent was not to threaten sanctions but rather to "concentrate on doing everything to help negotiations succeed." Lavrov had exchanged sharp words with Rice on the matter earlier this week.

UN nuclear chief Mohamed ElBaradei and Iranian officials agreed in July that Tehran would answer questions from agency specialists by December on more than two decades of nuclear activity - most of it secret until revealed more than four years ago.

Technical officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency returned to Tehran this week to start investigating outstanding questions, some with possible weapons applications.

In the statement, foreign ministers of the six countries, with the backing of EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, welcomed the IAEA agreement with Iran.

"We call upon Iran, however, to produce tangible results rapidly and effectively by clarifying all outstanding issues and concerns on Iran's nuclear program including topics which could have the military nuclear dimension," the statement said.

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