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Last Updated: Friday, 6 October 2006, 19:43 GMT 20:43 UK
Powers to discuss Iran sanctions
A general view of the Bushehr nuclear reactor
The UN Security Council is expected to discuss sanctions next week
Six key nations holding talks in the UK on the Iranian nuclear crisis have agreed to discuss possible sanctions against the Islamic republic.

Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said officials would "consult on measures" in the light of Iran's refusal to halt nuclear activities.

Ms Beckett spoke after discussions between the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany.

Despite fears it is developing nuclear arms, Iran says its aims are peaceful.

Russia and China favour diplomacy, not sanctions. UN debate on punitive action could start as early as next week.

'Time limited'

Ms Beckett said the six powers were "deeply disappointed that... Iran is not prepared to suspend its enrichment related and reprocessing activities as required by the IAEA [International Atomic Energy Agency] board and made mandatory in [UN] Security Council resolution 1696.

Iranian student outside Isfahan uranium enrichment plant in Iran.
Iran's nuclear programme is popular with many in the country
"Accordingly we will now consult on measures under article 41 of Chapter 7 of the UN Charter as envisaged in that resolution."

Article 41 authorises the Security Council to apply non-military means, such as economic or diplomatic sanctions, "to give effect to its decisions".

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said earlier that "the door to negotiations is and will be always open", despite saying earlier this week that little progress had been made in his "endless hours" of talks with Tehran.

He said the issue could only be solved through negotiations, although talks could not go on forever.

The six nations - the UK, Russia, China, France, the US and Germany - had offered Iran a package of incentives in return for the suspension of its uranium enrichment programme.

Iran missed a 31 August UN Security Council deadline to stop work, after which the US agreed to allow Mr Solana to continue talks with Tehran.

But BBC diplomatic correspondent James Robbins says the major powers now seem to accept that Iran is not prepared to meet their demand for a halt.

'Extreme measures'

There are sharp differences between the six countries attending the meeting on what kind of sanctions to possibly impose on Iran.

President Ahmadinejad opens the Arak heavy water plant on 26 August, 2006
Tehran says it will not give up its nuclear programme
The US and the UK favour immediate punitive sanctions, but in order to win over Russia and China, they are believed to be considering a series of low-level sanctions as a first step.

These would be what British officials describe as incremental, proportional and reversible.

They could include travel restrictions on Iranian officials and embargoes on missile and nuclear technology that could have dual civilian-military use.

But China and Russia have both said diplomacy is still the best way to achieve a solution.

On Thursday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov described sanctions as "extreme measures".

He said he would like to "see what extra possibilities exist to pursue multiparty diplomatic efforts".

Russia has built a nuclear power station in Iran and China relies on oil imports from the country.

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