Major powers are looking for new ways to draw Iran into negotiations over its nuclear program while simultaneously pushing for more U.N. sanctions, U.S. officials and diplomats said on Tuesday.
Political directors from the permanent five members of the U.N. Security Council -- Russia, China, the United States, Britain and France -- as well as Germany, met in Washington on Monday to discuss how to tweak their Iran strategy.
They agreed to move ahead on a third round of U.N. Security Council sanctions, which Washington hopes will be voted on this week. But diplomats said they also planned to reemphasize incentives they offered Iran in 2006 to give up its sensitive nuclear work.
Russia and China have been pushing for more carrots than punitive measures in the approach toward Iran, but several diplomats said there was little appetite among the Europeans and the United States for major, new incentives.
More than adding sweeteners is that we should provide that little door that allows Iran to enter the long, long corridor toward the room where the negotiating table is -- without losing face, said a European diplomat, who spoke on condition he was not named.
The political directors agreed ministers from the six nations would release a joint statement after the U.N. vote reiterating the 2006 offer to the Iranians and urging them to take it up, said diplomats and a U.S. official.
State Department spokesman Tom Casey said no new incentives were being considered but rather the political directors were examining how the 2006 deal could be presented in a way that Iran would find attractive.
There is a pretty broad range of incentives in the package and certainly there are ways to emphasize different aspects of it and explore different aspects of it, said Casey.
The 2006 offer included talks with the United States on any subject if Tehran suspended uranium enrichment; airline parts for civilian planes and dropping objections to entry to the World Trade Organization.
Iran, the world's fourth largest oil exporter, insists its uranium enrichment is to generate electricity and not aimed at building an atomic bomb.
Another European diplomat said: There's discussion of revising language on the June 2006 offer, not to add incentives, but to reiterate more strongly that it's still on the table.
Diplomats said they were also exploring new channels for talking to the Iranians outside of the current one between Solana and Iran's new nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, whose discussions have made no progress so far.
The idea is that maybe a friend of Solana meets a friend of Jalili. The two have tea and get their bosses together and they get someone else together, said a European diplomat.
The latest U.N. sanctions formally submitted by France and Britain, include asset freezes and mandatory travel bans for specific Iranian officials. It also expands the list of Iranian officials and companies targeted by the sanctions.
Earlier rounds of sanctions were imposed in December 2006 and March 2007.
A senior U.S. official said the hope was that the European Union would follow through soon after with its own sanctions package after the U.N. vote.