WASHINGTON The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany plan to meet in April to discuss whether to sweeten incentives they have offered Iran to curb its nuclear programme, U.S. officials said on Monday.
The officials said the talks among senior diplomats from Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States and Germany would likely be held in mid-April in China, possibly in Shanghai, although the date and venue had yet to be fixed.
The Security Council has imposed three rounds of sanctions on Iran for defying council demands that it suspend its uranium enrichment programme, which could be used to make fuel for power plants or atomic weapons.
Iran has refused to buckle to the sanctions and has spurned previous offers of economic benefits to suspend its uranium enrichment, which it says is to produce fuel for electrical power plants rather than for nuclear weapons.
U.S. acting Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Dan Fried, the third-ranking U.S. diplomat, plans to represent the United States at the meeting, the State Department said, declining to specify the venue or precise date.
In June 2006, the six countries held out incentives to Iran, including civil nuclear cooperation and wider trade in civil aircraft, energy, high technology and agriculture, if Tehran suspended uranium enrichment and negotiated with the six.
A senior U.S. official made clear the Bush administration's scepticism about improving on the offer but said it would hear out the others in P5+1 who wished to do so.
"We think that the June 1, 2006, offer was generous and was reasonable but other countries have differing views and the nature of multilateral diplomacy is we have to listen to them as well," said the official, who spoke on condition he not be identified because of the sensitivity of the diplomacy.
Asked why Iran might respond to an improved package when it brushed off the 2006 offer as well as an earlier package of incentives from Britain, France, Germany and the United States in 2005, this official replied, "That's a good question."
"We'll see what some of the other countries think might bring the Iranians further along but, the Iranians have had almost two years to look at (the 2006 proposal) and propose some suggestions of their own and they haven't," he said.
"We are willing, within the boundaries of what is acceptable to us, to consider an elucidation of the incentive track ... but I am not aware of anything dramatically new," said another U.S. official who asked not to be named.
"NEGOTIATING WITH OURSELVES"
A Western diplomat from one of the six countries told Reuters the main focus of the meeting later this month would be how they could make the package of incentives offered to Iran in June 2006 appear more attractive.
But the diplomat said Tehran's possible upcoming announcement of its latest nuclear achievements could affect the discussion at the meeting of the six powers.
Iran on Monday ruled out halting or limiting sensitive nuclear work in exchange for trade and other incentives from major powers and instead suggested it may announce new developments in its programme this week.
Iran marks its National Day of Nuclear Technology on Tuesday, an occasion Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad used last year to proclaim industrial uranium enrichment capacity.
"We'll have to wait and see what the Iranians announce," the diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the issue. "That could change things."
George Perkovich, a non-proliferation specialist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace think tank in Washington, doubted a sweeter offer would change Tehran's stance.
"The Iranians have not been negotiating since at least the summer of 2005 and they don't feel like they have to start now," he said. "We are negotiating with ourselves and ... we have been making the mistake of outbidding ourselves."
(Additional reporting by Louis Charbonneau at the United Nations; Editing by Peter Cooney)