EU, Iran fail to reach nuclear deal

BERLIN (Reuters) — European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said on Thursday he had failed to reach a deal with the chief Iranian negotiator on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions, but said they would hold another round of talks soon.

Several Western diplomats who were briefed on Solana’s talks with Larijani said the Iranians were still refusing to commit to suspending their uranium enrichment programme and said Larijani appeared to be trying to drag out talks with Solana.

“We have been progressing,” Solana told reporters after discussions with Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani.

“We still have some issues that have not been closed,” he added without elaborating. Solana said he hoped to renew contact with the Iranians by the middle of next week.

Solana’s comments appeared to indicate that prospects of a swift resolution were fading, a day after the US State Department had said time was running out for a deal.

An EU source acknowledged that the talks were not moving swiftly. “The motion is very slow,” the source said.

In June the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China offered Tehran a package of economic and political incentives if it suspended uranium enrichment, which the West believes is part of a nuclear weapons programme.

Tehran says its uranium enrichment activities are aimed solely at generating electricity and has refused to halt them.

If Iran does not suspend enrichment, the United States and the “EU3” have agreed to ask the UN Security Council to impose sanctions on the Islamic republic. China and Russia oppose sanctions and would prefer to reopen negotiations with Iran.

Crucial issue of suspension

Larijani said seven hours of talks over two days had brought “some possible conclusions” and added that talks would continue.

“We hope to be able to embark on the main negotiations as soon as possible,” he said, referring to the incentives package.

Neither Solana nor Larijani took questions and it was not clear if there had been any change in Iran’s position on the crucial issue of suspending uranium enrichment.

A Western diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said it was not clear what, if any, progress had been made.

Regarding the suspension, he said Iran was “still only thinking about considering a possible suspension.” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said he was open to negotiations and would accept “fair conditions”. But he criticised the West’s demand that Iran freeze its enrichment programme, which it hid from UN inspectors for 18 years.

“Why are they insisting that we suspend our atomic work? Because they control the advertising network of the world and they want to tell the nations that they were right, and Iran wanted to produce nuclear weapons, and after that they would never let us continue our programmes,” Ahmadinejad said.

Washington, which has been pushing the EU to back UN sanctions against Iran, followed the Berlin meeting closely.

US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said neither the United States nor other major powers want sanctions and it was up to Tehran to halt enrichment. “The ball is in their court,” he told a news briefing.

“We continue to hope for a positive answer from the Iranians,” he said. “Nobody wants to go down the path of sanctions. That is not our first choice. But we are prepared along with the [other major powers] to go down that path if that’s the door the Iranians want to open.” The UN Security Council originally set an August 31 deadline for Iran to halt enrichment which Tehran ignored. The six powers then agreed to give Solana until early October to reach a deal.

If no deal is reached, Washington wants UN sanctions. “Our credibility is at stake here,” a US diplomat said.

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