GENEVA, Switzerland — World powers Saturday gave Iran two weeks to agree to freeze its uranium enrichment program at its current size as a first step toward full-scale negotiations on its nuclear program, or face further U.N. sanctions and isolation.
Representatives of the six nations told Iran they would have no more talks on their offer to withhold new U.N. sanctions for six weeks if Iran refrains, for a similar period, from adding new enrichment machines — called centrifuges — to the more than 3,000 it is now operating.
"I hope very much in a couple of weeks we . . . hear either telephonically or physically hear a change of view," European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said after the day-long talks with Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili. "The Iranians know very well what will continue to happen (on sanctions) if nothing happens otherwise."
Solana was more explicit behind closed doors, rejecting an Iranian proposal for three more sessions to discuss the "freeze for a freeze," said a European official who was present and requested anonymity because the talks were confidential.
"We are not looking for any more meetings. Give us a call in two weeks time and say yes or no," the European official quoted Solana as telling Jalili.
Solana said Jalili failed to give a clear response to the freeze for a freeze proposal that was made by the powers — Britain, France, Germany, Russia, China and the United States — and carried to Tehran by Solana last month.
The proposal is aimed at encouraging Tehran to comply with U.N. Security Council demands to suspend its uranium enrichment work and open negotiations on the program's future in return for Western economic, security and technical rewards.
There were hopes of some movement following recent conciliatory statements by senior Iranian officials and President Bush's decision to send Undersecretary of State William Burns to Geneva, the first time a U.S. official has participated in face-to-face nuclear talks with Iran.
Bush's decision reversed an administration refusal to join direct talks until Iran complied with U.N. Security Council demands to suspend uranium enrichment, the process that can produce both fuel for power plants and fissionable material for nuclear weapons, depending on its duration.
The United States, Israel and others believe Iran is using the enrichment program that it hid from mandatory international inspections for 18 years to develop nuclear weapons; Iran insists that it is legally producing power plant fuel.
Burns, a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow who helped broker a deal that ended Libya's nuclear program and is now the No. 3 State Department diplomat, left the talks in Geneva's ornate city hall without speaking to reporters.
In Washington, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that Burns delivered "a clear simple message" to Jalili that the United States is "serious" in its support for the offers made to Iran and that its partners "are serious" in their support for a U.S. refusal to join full-scale negotiations unless Iran suspends enrichment.
"We hope the Iranian people understand that their leaders need to make a choice between cooperation, which would bring benefits to all, and confrontation, which can only lead to further isolation," he said.
Burns had no separate contacts with the Iranians, McCormack said.
Speaking at a news conference with Solana, Jalili said he presented the powers with a "non-paper" — a diplomatic term for an informal proposal — encompassing an earlier Iranian offer of negotiations on energy, technical and security cooperation, but that ignored the enrichment suspension question.
He evaded the question of whether Iran would accept the "freeze for a freeze," saying that having a "continuous" dialogue with the powers "is more important."
The European official said the non-paper proposal "doesn't mention freeze for a freeze," and "the words centrifuges and nuclear activities didn't pass Jalili's lips" during the talks.
Keyvan Imani, Iran's ambassador to Switzerland, reiterated his government's refusal to suspend enrichment. "There is no chance for that," he told reporters.
The inconclusive outcome and the prospect of new sanctions on Iran threatened to revive serious tensions in the oil-rich Persian Gulf that have helped slow the U.S. and world economies by pushing petroleum prices to record levels.
The United States and Israel have threatened to attack Iranian nuclear facilities. Iran recently test-launched missiles in response to a massive Israeli military exercise portrayed by U.S. officials as a rehearsal for a strike on the Iranian sites.
In Saturday's talks, the powers underscored their resolve to hold Iran to the two-week deadline on accepting the freeze for a freeze by having Russia, which with China had been reluctant to take a tough line with Tehran, "set out clearly what we want" to Jalili, the European diplomat said.
Deputy Chinese Foreign Minister Liu Jieyi signaled Beijing's impatience with Tehran, telling McClatchy after the meeting that Iran should give "a positive response" to the proposal "earlier rather than later."
It appeared that the European Union will slap its own sanctions on Iran as soon as next Tuesday, including an asset freeze on Bank Milli, the largest financial institution. The United States has already taken measures against the bank and two others.
The U.N. Security Council has imposed three rounds of sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes on officials and institutions involved in the nuclear program.
A second European official, who requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly, said new U.N. sanctions may impose further financial strictures, but that the powers have not yet begun consultations on specific measures.
McClatchy Newspapers 2008