updated 9/16/2006 7:42:01 PM ET 2006-09-16T23:42:01

European diplomats are considering a meeting with Iran on the sidelines of next week's U.N. General Assembly in hopes of de-escalating the standoff over Tehran's nuclear program -- but the United States won't be getting an invitation.

The Bush administration, which is pushing for U.N. sanctions against Iran, has said it will join European-led negotiations with Iran only if Tehran stops its uranium enrichment work first.

That has led European negotiators to work on having a meeting -- without the U.S. -- in which Iran could say it is temporarily suspending enrichment activities because new negotiations had indeed begun.

A U.S. official confirmed that European diplomats were contemplating the meeting, but White House spokeswoman Emily Lawrimore would say only that President George W. Bush has consistently supported talks with Iran, led by Britain, France and Germany. "He is hopeful that ongoing negotiations will encourage the Iranian government to suspend its enrichment and reprocessing activities," she said.

The U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the volatile nature of the discussions, said the Bush administration is not expecting that such a meeting would be a major turning point in the dispute. The Bush administration has little confidence that "Iran will come through to meet the conditions" of verifiably suspending its enrichment work, the official said.

At a news conference Friday, Bush said he will send a signal at the United Nations that the United States will not tolerate delay tactics by Tehran. "Stalling shouldn't be allowed," Bush said.

Bush also stressed that he believes there is a strong consensus in the international community to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear weapon, although Russia and China -- two members of the U.N. Security Council that have veto power -- have been hesitant about imposing U.N. sanctions against the Iranian government.

Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, is to meet Sunday in New York with Ali Larijani, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator. If their discussion goes well, then the meeting -- without the U.S. -- could be arranged, the U.S. official said.

The idea would be to schedule such a meeting ahead of another gathering on Tuesday night that is being attended by representatives of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and a few other nations. In that meeting, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is poised to push for more clarity about sanctions that could be imposed on Iran.

"Absent that change in the status quo, our plan is to push ahead on Tuesday," the U.S. official said.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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