New York: Six major powers considered new sanctions against Iran over its nuclear defiance on Saturday but reached no decision, a senior European Union official said.
The closed-door meeting hosted by the European Union at its mission in New York brought together senior officials from Britain, France, Germany, Russia and the United States. China, signalling its reluctance to back tougher sanctions pushed by the West, sent a lower-level diplomat.
"Consideration of appropriate further measures has begun," Robert Cooper, a top EU diplomat, said after the meeting, giving no details of the measures discussed.
He spoke as host and chair of the closed-door working luncheon, which lasted just over two hours.
Cooper said the six expressed concern over Iran's building of a new secret enrichment plant "with no credible civilian purpose," as well as its "insufficient cooperation" with the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The six were also concerned about Tehran's rejection of a deal under which most of Iran's low enriched uranium (LEU) stockpile would be shipped abroad to be further enriched into reactor fuel.
Tehran has ignored a US-set December 31 deadline to accept the offer, drawn up by the UN International Atomic Energy Agency, and countered with its own proposal of a simultaneous and staged swap of LEU with reactor fuel.
Iran insists it is ready to send its LEU abroad only if there is a simultaneous exchange of fuel inside the country.
"The group remains united, remains committed to the two-track approach" of sanctions while pursuing negotiations, the EU official said.
"That implies that we will continue to seek a negotiation solution -- but consideration of appropriate further measures (sanctions) has also begun," he pointedly noted.
Earlier, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov emerged from the meeting, saying it was "inconclusive in the sense that we did not make any decisions right away."
"We have started the next chapter of this saga, the next part of the process. As I said Russia has always been fully committed to the dual track approach," he said.
"We have talked today about the second track, but it does not mean that we should abandon the first one, the engagement policy."
US Under Secretary of State William Burns only aid that the six had a "useful discussion”.
His French counterpart Jacques Audibert stressed that "it was not a meeting to make decisions”.
Diplomatic sources said the EU-hosted meeting was preceded by a two-hour gathering of the four Western members of the group.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday that the six would explore "the kind and degree of sanctions that we should be pursuing" as Iran doggedly refused to comply with UN demands to halt uranium enrichment.
Measures said to be under consideration include tougher sanctions targeting Iran's insurance, financial and arms sectors.
The goal is to increase the pressure so Iran will accept an UN-brokered deal aimed at allaying suspicions about the nature of its nuclear program.
First Published: Sunday, January 17, 2010, 09:06