BRUSSELS, Belgium, AP -Iran’s top nuclear negotiator said Tuesday that talks on Tehran’s atomic program will be a “long process,” urging patience and dashing hopes of a breakthrough on the international standoff.
The comments by Ali Larijani, following talks with European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, appeared to dash any hopes that Iran will meet a Wednesday deadline on a six-nation offer of incentives aimed at dissuading Tehran from uranium enrichment.
“We have discussed a wide range of important issues together, consultations will now be done by both sides. We will be in contact together in order to see how to proceed,” Larijani said after the negotiations. “We have to go into a long process, we must be patient.”
Solana offered little comment on progress made during the meeting, which lasted around four hours.
“We will make (an) analysis and we will see how to proceed,” Solana said.
Neither side gave an indication on whether Iran was moving toward accepting a package of incentives offered last month. Iranian officials in Tehran reiterated that they need clarification on the proposal before giving any formal response.
Solana was hoping for a positive reply from Larijani on the offer of economic and trade rewards as well as nuclear expertise and reactors in exchange for a pledge by Iran to suspend uranium enrichment activities during nuclear talks.
Solana said he would brief foreign ministers from the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain on Wednesday in Paris on his talks with the Iranians.
The six powers want an Iranian response to the incentives package before the weekend summit of the Group of Eight industrialized nations in St. Petersburg, Russia. But Iranian officials have insisted they won’t present a formal response until August.
On Tuesday, a top French official ruled out setting a new deadline for Iran during the upcoming G-8 summit since China will not be present at that meeting.
The diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the talks, said France was reluctant to set any ultimatums, calling them counterproductive.
In Washington, British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett said the incentive package merits “a warm and ready welcome” from Iran.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice raised anew the possibility of punishment but gave no specifics.
“We hope that the Iranians choose the path before them for cooperation, but of course we can always return to the other path should we need to,” Rice said.
On Sunday, Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki warned the G-8 summit against making any decisions on Iran’s nuclear program without consulting it first, arguing that this could harm Tehran’s talks with the EU.
Western officials have threatened to restart efforts to punish Iran through possible U.S. Security Council sanctions unless Tehran stops enrichment and agrees to talks by Wednesday.
Tehran has asserted repeatedly that its nuclear program, which includes uranium enrichment, is peaceful and aimed at generating power. But the process is contentious because enrichment can both generate power or create the fissile core of nuclear warheads, and the U.S., Israel and EU all fear the research program is a cover for developing weapons.