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Iran, EU say nuclear talks were 'constructive'

Written by: Staff
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Vienna, Sep 10: Iran's top nuclear negotiator and the EU foreign policy chief had ''constructive'' talks today and will resume them tomorrow, both sides said.

The talks between the European Union's Javier Solana and Iran's Ali Larijani have been billed as possibly the last chance to avert U N Security Council moves to hit Tehran with sanctions over its atomic ambitions.

''We have had good and constructive talks and we have made some progress in some areas,'' Larijani said. ''We shall continue tomorrow.'' Solana's spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said: ''The talks were constructive and positive and will resume tomorrow morning.'' The talks came after two days of uncertainty reflecting doubts over whether they would achieve anything. The Solana-Larijani encounter was originally scheduled for Wednesday but postponed at the last minute.

The reluctance of both sides to commit to the talks betrayed a war of nerves that has intensified since Iran ignored a council deadline of August 31 to stop enriching uranium, a process that could yield atomic bombs.

Neither side provided details about what had been discussed at the meeting.

Before the talks, Solana had wanted Larijani to clarify Iran's 21-page reply to an offer from six big powers of trade and other incentives to halt its nuclear fuel programme.

Specifically, Solana was expected to home in on hints in the response that Tehran could curb the programme if engaged in negotiations to implement the benefits on offer.

Larijani meanwhile was expected to again rule out the powers' precondition that enrichment be suspended indefinitely.

A diplomat from one of three EU states, France, Britain and Germany, in the sextet of powers said: ''We don't think this meeting will provide a basis for negotiations.''

US pushing for Sanctions

Regardless of the Vienna talks, U S Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said after a meeting of the six in Berlin on Friday that Washington expected the council to begin deliberations next week on a draft sanctions resolution.

But key EU allies as well as Russia and China voiced growing doubt about the speed with which Washington wanted to pursue financial and diplomatic sanctions against Tehran, its arch-foe but also the world's fourth-biggest oil exporter.

To various degrees, they prefer further talks to explore a compromise that would save face on both sides.

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, speaking after a China-EU summit in Helsinki today, urged the international community to exercise caution over sanctions and reiterated his government's call for Iran to ''take seriously'' concerns over the programme.

''Sanctions or pressure will not necessarily bring about the goal of solving the Iran nuclear issue,'' he said. ''Our objective is to promote an ultimate peaceful resolution of the Iran nuclear issue.'' Iran insists it only wants to generate electricity. Western powers suspect the work is a smokescreen for efforts to build atom bombs. U N nuclear watchdog probes have raised many questions, but found no proof of diversions into bomb-making.

Tehran renewed calls for negotiations in its reply to the offer of trade inducements. But it ruled out shelving enrichment to qualify for the benefits, a step Western leaders see as vital to creating trust in Iranian intentions.

An internal position paper drawn up by France, Britain and Germany said Iran was seeking to split world opinion and weaken any sanctions by withholding a clear reply to big power terms, according to a diplomat from one of the ''EU3'' powers.

Another EU3 diplomat said Larijani's stopovers in Italy and Spain this week seemed to be part of that manoeuvring.

Reuters

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