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EU upbeat after first Iran nuclear talks

Written by: Staff

BRUSSELS, July 7 (Reuters) The European Union today said it expected a ''substantial response'' from Iran at talks next week on a package of incentives to end a nuclear standoff, describing an initial meeting as constructive.

''It's a good start for what we expect will be a positive meeting on July 11,'' Cristina Gallach, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said of his meeting late yesterday with Iran chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani.

''We expect on Tuesday that they will be able to give us a substantial response,'' she said by telephone today of a second round of July 11 talks on a package of technology, trade and other incentives for Iran to halt uranium enrichment.

Asked whether the EU was confident Iran would comply with Western demands for a full answer by a summit of Group of Eight industrial powers in St Petersburg four days later, she said: ''We want to create the conditions for the start of negotiations as soon as possible ... I have always said we are not using the word 'deadlines','' she said, adding the summit and an earlier meeting of major power foreign ministers in Paris on July 12 were nonetheless key dates.

She gave no details on the content of the talks between Solana and Larijani, which she described as a ''tete-a-tete'' meeting with just an interpreter, saying only that Solana stressed the benefit to Iran of accepting the offer.

No Iranian officials were available to comment on the talks.

Larijani flew to Madrid for a previously scheduled meeting with Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos today.

''The minister indicated to him that the Spanish government hopes Iran will respond to the proposal within a short period of time,'' the Spanish Foreign Ministry said in a news release.

Larijani was due to give a news conference in Madrid at 5.30 pm local 2100 hrs IST time.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany have offered Iran a state-of-the-art nuclear reactor with a guaranteed fuel supply, economic benefits and other incentives if it halts uranium enrichment.

PATIENCE RUNNING OUT Larijani, secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, told reporters before meeting Solana he would give a preliminary response next week.

''We are serious about continuing negotiations and will start next Tuesday with talks,'' he told reporters.

A US official later told State Department reporters in an email that Larijani had not responded to the proposal during his first meeting with Solana.

UN nuclear watchdog head Mohamed ElBaradei warned Iran on Wednesday the world was running out of patience.

''The earlier they can provide an answer is better for everybody,'' ElBaradei, who heads the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told reporters while visiting Turkey.

The United States has accused Iran of having a secret programme to build nuclear weapons. Iran, the world's fourth largest oil exporter, denies the charge and says its nuclear work is solely for power generation.

Diplomats say that since Russia and China are unlikely to back any UN sanctions against Iran at this stage, there is little pressure on Tehran to respond either at the Brussels talks or before the G8 summit in Russia.


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