Big powers scrap meeting on Iran nuclear program

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A planned meeting of diplomats from major powers on Iran’s nuclear program will not take place this year although discussions will continue by telephone, the State Department said on Monday.

“It’s been decided that because of scheduling difficulties that it won’t be possible this year. They look forward to continuing to consult as they do on a frequent basis,” said spokesman Ian Kelly.

Kelly said top diplomats from the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- along with Germany would likely speak by telephone about Iran before the end of the year.

The group is pressing Tehran on its nuclear program, which Western powers fear is aimed at developing atomic weapons. Tehran denies this and says it is only for peaceful purposes.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said on Monday diplomatic efforts to win concessions from Iran on the nuclear issue were not bearing fruit and the international community would look at alternatives -- presumably sanctions -- to press its case.

A senior administration official said China, which has expressed reservations about sanctions, had said it could not make the face-to-face meeting but waved away suggestions that the canceled meeting reflected divisions within the group.

“We are unified in our need to send a clear message to Iran that they have to abide by their obligations,” Kelly said.

In October, negotiators offered Iran a deal under which it would send most of its low-enriched uranium abroad by the end of the year for further enrichment, but Tehran has since backtracked.

Reporting by Andrew Quinn; Editing by Howard Goller and Doina Chiacu