Talks herald new phase for Iran
BBC / Paul Reynolds

A new phase in the diplomatic effort to get Iran to freeze its nuclear activities will be opened this week.

Talks are set to resume a week after the revelation that Iran has built a new enrichment plant in the mountains near Qom.

Western diplomats say that the talks represent the last chance Iran has to convince the countries negotiating with it that its intentions are peaceful and that if there is no progress, then further sanctions will be considered by the end of the year.

One official said that "it will leave us in a dangerous place" if nothing had been resolved by then, meaning that the risk of an attack by Israel would have increased.

But doubts are growing that the US will be able to enforce its first choice of new sanctions - a ban on the import to Iran of finished petroleum products.

Such a ban would hit at the weak link in Iran's energy industry. Despite its huge oil reserves, Iran cannot refine enough finished products itself and imports about 40% of them.

US allies appear reluctant to go this far, including French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who said: "I think this is a bit dangerous." The measure would hit "mainly poor people", he added.

'Legal issues'

Russia also seems doubtful, despite suggestions last week from President Dmitry Medvedev that more sanctions might be necessary.

The ice in relations between the US and Russia mig... >>>

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