Iran postpones nuclear talks, to EU's frustration
BRUSSELS, July 5 (Reuters) Iran today postponed crucial nuclear talks with the European Union in apparent anger at an exiled opposition leader's visit to the European Parliament, but the meeting will go ahead tomorrow.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who last month put to Tehran a package of incentives offered by major powers for it to give up uranium enrichment, voiced surprise and impatience after a phone call with the chief Iranian nuclear negotiator.
''I was surprised to hear that Ali Larijani ... has decided at the last minute to postpone his trip,'' Solana said.
''I have made clear to the Iranians and to Dr Larijani that we want to proceed rapidly to examine the ideas I put to him early last month,'' he added in a statement.
Solana said he would meet Larijani in Brussels tomorrow and again on July 11, keeping up Western pressure for a clear answer before leaders of the Group of Eight industrial powers meet in St Petersburg on July 15.
The United States insisted it wanted an Iranian answer on the incentives offer three days before the summit.
''We have made it clear ... that we expect an answer by the 12th before the G8 summit begins,'' said White House spokesman Tony Snow.
Britain expressed disappointment at Iran's postponement of today's talks. ''This adds to a suspicion that Iran is playing for time,'' a Foreign Office spokesman said.
Iran has said it will only give its response by August 22.
The United States has accused Iran of having a secret programme to build nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charge, saying its nuclear programme is solely for power generation.
The five permanent, veto-wielding UN Security Council members -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China -- plus Germany offered on June 6 a state-of-the-art nuclear reactor with a guaranteed fuel supply and economic benefits.
INVITATION ACCEPTED Larijani's deputy, Javad Vaeedi, told Reuters the Iranian negotiator had accepted an invitation to a private dinner with Solana tomorrow, and they would hold official talks in Brussels next Tuesday. He gave no reason for the postponement.
But an EU diplomat said the Iranians had cited a visit to the European Parliament in Strasbourg on the same day by the leader of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, described by Tehran as a terrorist group.
Asked whether the visit by Maryam Rajavi was the reason for the sudden postponement, an Iranian official told Reuters: ''It could have had a negative impact on the meeting.'' Rajavi, who is based in France and whose organisation is the political wing of the outlawed People's Mujahideen armed group, was invited to the legislature by a cross-party group of EU lawmakers who call themselves ''Friends of a Free Iran''.
Rajavi held a news conference at the EU legislature in the eastern French city but cancelled plans to meet parliamentary groups in what she said was an attempt to avoid giving the Iranian authorities an excuse to stop the nuclear talks.
''I wish to remove any pretext that the mullahs might have,'' she told journalists.
But Rajavi, whose group was the first to publish details of Iran's clandestine nuclear enrichment programme in 2002, still compared Western efforts to find a solution with Iran to moves to placate Nazi leader Adolf Hitler before World War Two.
''The solution to this crisis is neither appeasement nor war.
It is to be found in democratic change in Iran,'' she said, referring to Europe's bid in 1938 to giving Hitler part of Czechoslovakia in exchange for peace.
A German Foreign Ministry spokesman told a regular briefing in Berlin there were ''high expectations'' for tomorrow's meeting.
But diplomats say that as Russia and China are unlikely to back any UN sanctions against Iran at this stage, there was little pressure on Tehran to respond either at the Brussels meetings or before the G8 summit in Russia.
REUTERS SHB KP2135