VIENNA (AFP) – Last-ditch EU-Iran talks to avert UN sanctions over Tehran’s nuclear program resumed here, even as Iran ruled out ceding to global demands to suspend its uranium enrichment activities.
European Union foreign policy representative Javier Solana and Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani met for second round of talks at the federal chancellery in Vienna after extending discussions that began Saturday.
Although Larijani reported “some progress” after the first meeting, the Iranian foreign ministry in Tehran said Sunday that the question of suspending enrichment work — a key demand if sanctions are to be avoided — was a “thing of the past”.
“Iran will not take a step back,” ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters Sunday.
Iran says its nuclear program is a peaceful effort to generate electricity but the United States charges that Tehran is secretly developing atomic weapons. Enrichment makes nuclear power reactor fuel but also atom bomb material.
Asefi said the Vienna talks between Solana and Larijani, which were extended despite being expected to only last one day, had been “good” but that Iran “rejected any negotiations with preconditions”.
Washington wants the United Nations to crack down on Iran with sanctions for its refusal to heed a UN Security Council call to suspend enrichment despite being offered trade and other benefits in return.
Solana and Larijani were discussing Iran’s answer to the benefits package offered by Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States which is conditional on a halt to enrichment activity.
A diplomat said the six world powers were watching the Larijani-Solana meeting to see if progress could be made in order to move towards negotiations rather than sanctions.
The United States wants a Security Council resolution imposing sanctions to be drafted as early as next week, and the six world powers are to hold a telephone conference call on Monday, US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said Friday in Berlin.
The goal is to be ready so that foreign ministers from the six nations trying to win guarantees that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons can “complete a sanctions resolution” when they meet in New York at the UN General Assembly” on September 19, Burns said.
The Security Council had called for an enrichment freeze by August 31 and threatened sanctions if Iran did not comply.
There seem to be differences among the six, however, over taking punitive action.
Prime Minister Wen Jiabao of China warned Saturday against stepping up pressure on Tehran, saying this would “not necessarily bring about a peaceful solution”.
Russia, like China a key trading partner with Iran, is also reluctant to impose sanctions.
And European countries such as Germany, France and Italy fear damage to their considerable trade with Iran if strong economic measures are imposed.
A senior European diplomat told AFP: “The United States is trying hard to get sanctions. Others are trying to put their foot on the brakes.”
But the diplomat said the six did agree that they must remain united in order to be able to pressure Iran.
Other diplomats noted that the application of sanctions is expected to be gradual, with symbolic measures such as banning travel by Iranian nuclear officials coming first.
Non-proliferation analyst Gary Samore, a former US Clinton administration official who now works at the Council on Foreign Relations think tank in New York, said the Russians and Chinese, and even some European countries, may be open to a compromise.
“The idea that the Iranians have been floating behind the scenes is for technical level discussions at the political director level without suspension to prepare for full discussions at the foreign ministry level,” Samore said.
But Burns in Berlin had ruled out any compromise on enrichment.