BRUSSELS, (Reuters) – Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana will meet next Wednesday for talks on the dispute over Tehran’s nuclear programme, an EU official said on Friday. “They will be preliminary discussions with a view to seeing if it would be possible to restart negotiations,” the official said, adding the venue of the meeting had not yet been fixed.
Iranian news agency ISNA said earlier Larijani and Solana had agreed the meeting by telephone on Thursday in the latest of a series of contacts since the U.N. Security Council imposed new sanctions on Iran last month over its refusal to halt uranium enrichment.
Iran is embroiled in an escalating row with the West over its nuclear work, which the United States and major European powers suspect is aimed at making atom bombs. Tehran denies this and says it only wants to generate electricity.
ISNA quoted Larijani as telling Solana: “While Iran keeps its obvious right in developing a peaceful nuclear programme, it is always ready to have constructive negotiations with other parties.”
The news agency added in its report: “Based on the agreement of the two parties, the new round of Larijani’s and Solana’s negotiations will start on April 25, Wednesday.”
The United Nations Security Council has passed two sanctions resolutions on Iran since December, targeting its nuclear and military sectors and severely impeding its financial transactions with the outside world.
Major powers have said Iran must halt nuclear enrichment — which could produce material that could be used in a bomb — before wider negotiations they say could lead to major trade and diplomatic benefits for the oil-rich country.
But Iranian officials have made clear they will not abandon their nuclear programme, saying it is peaceful and Iran’s national right.
Further raising the stakes in the standoff, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad last week announced Iran had begun industrial-scale nuclear fuel production, marking a shift from experimental enrichment work it had been conducting.
The move drew international scepticism, with Russia saying it saw no sign Iran had made significant progress and Western experts describing it as a public relations coup. Analysts say Iran has used announcements of atomic progress in the past to strengthen its bargaining position with the West, but that such statements have often glossed over technical glitches they say have plagued Iran’s atomic work.
Diplomats familiar with the latest inspection findings by the U.N. nuclear watchdog characterised Iran’s new enrichment activity as test-scale, not yet an effort to enrich uranium in amounts usable as nuclear fuel.
The United States says it would prefer a negotiated solution to the standoff, but has not ruled out military options. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has threatened U.S. regional interests if attacked.