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Major powers voice dismay over an unresponsive Iran

PARIS -- Frustrated world powers agreed yesterday to send Iran before the United Nations Security Council for possible punishment, saying the Iranians had given no sign they would bargain in earnest over their disputed nuclear program.

The move amounted to calling Iran's bluff. Diplomats said that recent meetings with Iran's nuclear negotiator have gone nowhere and that it was clear Tehran hoped to play for time or exploit potential divisions among the six powers that have offered new talks.

The United States and other nations wanted Iran to say by yesterday whether it would meet terms to begin negotiations on a package of economic and energy incentives in exchange for at least a short-term end to Tehran's program to enrich uranium.

The Security Council's permanent members said Iranian leaders had had long enough to respond.

``The Iranians have given no indication at all that they are ready to engage seriously on the substance of our proposals," French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said on behalf of the United States, France, Britain, Russia, and China, the five permanent Security Council members, plus Germany and the European Union.

Though Russia and China signed on to yesterday's statement, the two traditional commercial partners of Iran previously have opposed imposition of the toughest of sanctions.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed his disappointment with Iran for not responding to the proposals. Lavrov said that if Tehran does not agree to return to negotiations ``the Security Council will consider steps appropriate to the situation," the ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

If Iran agrees to the group's terms for negotiations, it would mean the first high-level face-to-face talks between the United States and Iran after more than a quarter century of estrangement.

The group that met in Paris yesterday represents the permanent, veto-holding members of the UN Security Council plus the European participants in previous, failed nuclear talks with Iran.

Tehran contends its nuclear program is aimed only at producing electricity, but the West fears it is hiding plans to build a bomb.

Expressing ``profound disappointment," foreign ministers said, ``we have no choice but to return to the United Nations Security Council" and resume a course of possible punishment or coercion that the powers had set aside in hopes of reaching a deal.

The group was pushing for an agreement before world leaders meet this weekend in Russia for the Group of Eight summit of leading industrial democracies.

President Bush and other leaders are now expected to issue a strongly worded rebuke to Iran during the G-8 meeting.

Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, the Bush administration's chief negotiator on the Iran issue, said the United States is pleased by what it called strong action by the Security Council group.

``This is a significant decision that frankly reflects the disappointment and frustration of our countries over the lack of a serious response."

There was no immediate reaction from Tehran, which has repeatedly said it needs more time to consider proposals presented in early June.

Iran had ruled out responding this week to international incentives to suspend disputed portions of its nuclear program.

Any real move to punish Iran at the Security Council is a long way off, but the group said it will seek an initial resolution requiring Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment. Debate could begin as soon as next week.

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