ANKARA, (Reuters) – Iran’s nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani said on Thursday Iran and the EU were nearing “a united view” in some areas of their talks and new ideas were raised to break an international impasse over Tehran’s atomic programme.
European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the talks had been constructive and conducted in a good atmosphere, though no “great breakthrough” was on the cards for now. The U.S. State Department said it was briefed on the talks and was not aware of any “substantive progress”.
The talks between Larijani and Solana ended in the early afternoon, but will reconvene in two weeks’ time.
Senior officials of the six big powers — the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany — and EU are to meet in London next week to review the Solana-Larijani dialogue and discuss whether a third, tougher sanctions resolution might be needed, two EU diplomats told Reuters.
The United States and other Western powers suspect Iran has a secret nuclear arms programme, and U.N. sanctions have already been imposed on Tehran. Iran says its wants to produce uranium fuel for use in nuclear power stations to make electricity. “In some areas we are approaching a united view. That is to say that the best approach is to settle all the issues through negotiations based on law and international rules and regulations,” Larijani said in remarks translated from Farsi. “We had transparent and frank talks and there were new ideas also introduced. I would not say they are all complete ideas but they will serve as capacity for continuing talks. We should give them time to grow,” he told a press conference. He and Solana did not go into the substance of their two-day talks, their first for more than two months.
The core dispute is Iran’s insistence on a right to a sovereign nuclear energy industry against a U.N. demand that it halt all such activity to win a suspension of sanctions against it and launch negotiations leading to trade benefits for Tehran.
Some diplomats and analysts say Iran and the six world powers handling Iran’s atomic file may eventually need to accept a partial enrichment freeze under strict U.N. inspections to overcome the deadlock. But both sides have publicly denied this.
Analysts say the key to resolving the crisis is finding a definition of an enrichment suspension both sides can stomach. This could, for example, mean suspending uranium fuel production but exempting the building or testing of centrifuge machines.
Asked if he and Larijani discussed a limited suspension as a compromise to enable negotiations, Solana told reporters:”We didn’t enter any specific discussions of that nature. We have moved on in general terms.”
Asked the same question, Larijani said: “That idea is an old presumption. If you just go for a suspension, there are no other issues remaining to solve through negotiations.”
But he also told CNN Turk television that Tehran was trying to find “a middle way” out of preconditions posed by the West.
A European diplomat said the nature of an enrichment freeze came up in the talks. Another said it was the Iranians who were after a relaxation of the definition, not the Western powers.
European officials say such compromises could be struck in the future, but only after Iran freezes enrichment activity.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has proclaimed Iran’s ability to enrich on “industrial scale”, but U.N. inspectors say it remains at test level in Tehran’s underground Natanz plant.
Iran would face further sanctions if it has not stopped enrichment by a new Security Council deadline of May 24.