BRUSSELS,(Reuters) – The European Union holds rescheduled talks with Iran about its nuclear programme on Thursday amid rising Western concern at Tehran’s failure to respond to a package of incentives designed to end a standoff.
Iran postponed talks with the EU’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana in Brussels on Wednesday in apparent anger at an exiled opposition leader’s visit to the European parliament.
But Iran said its chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani would meet Solana for a private dinner on Thursday.
Solana said he had agreed to a second meeting with Larijani on July 11, keeping up Western pressure for a clear answer from Iran on the package before leaders of the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrialised nations meet in St Petersburg on July 15.
“What we are looking for is the first feedback — the start of the process of getting a reply,” said an EU diplomat of the Thursday meeting.
“The more they (the Iranians) wait, the more the countries who made the offer will feel impatient,” said the diplomat, who requested anonymity.
However, diplomats say that as Russia and China are unlikely to back any U.N. 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.
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.
“(If Iran is) trying to stall, it’s not going to work,” U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice told reporters in Washington on Wednesday.
Iran says it sees ambiguities in the package of incentives put forward on June 6 by the five permanent, veto-wielding U.N. Security Council members — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — plus Germany.
The major powers offered a state-of-the-art nuclear reactor with a guaranteed fuel supply, economic benefits and support for the idea of a regional security framework if Iran halted uranium enrichment.
But so far Tehran has said it will not give its answer before Aug. 22.
Britain expressed disappointment at Iran’s postponement of Wednesday’s talks. “This adds to a suspicion that Iran is playing for time,” a Foreign Office spokesman said in London.
Iran remained vague about its reasons for postponing Wednesday’s talks.
One EU diplomat, who declined to be named, said Iran cited a visit to the European parliament in Strasbourg on Wednesday by Maryam Rajavi, leader of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, described by Tehran as a terrorist group.
Iran’s official IRNA news agency quoted what it called an informed source as saying the meeting was cancelled because of safety concerns after security officials received information about “terrorist groups”.
IRNA said the meeting was rescheduled after the EU offered safety assurances.