AFP: EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani failed Thursday to break the deadlock over Tehran’s nuclear programme but agreed to meet again in a fortnight.
by Olivier Thibault
MADRID, May 31, 2007 (AFP) – EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani failed Thursday to break the deadlock over Tehran’s nuclear programme but agreed to meet again in a fortnight.
“I think we can say that there was no fundamental breakthrough, but we made advances on some important issues,” Solana told reporters after the two held discussions for some four hours in Madrid.
“What is important is that we are going to continue working at a more intense rhythm than we have had in the past few months,” he said.
The two agreed to talk again in a week and hold another face-to-face meeting in two weeks’ time, but failed to make significant ground on the major sticking points: Iran’s suspension of enrichment activities and UN sanctions.
“In the course of these negotiations, there has been some useful ideas on both sides,” said Larijani.
“We have asked our deputies to act on these and in about two weeks’ time there should be another meeting about the ideas that were introduced, including the issues raised about the IAEA,” he added.
The International Atomic Energy Agency last week issued a damning report, saying that Iran persists in defying UN demands to stop enriching uranium and was hampering the job of its inspectors on the ground.
“We are quite serious about reaching a solution for this problem as soon as possible since we have found good common ground to work out,” Larijani said, without specifying what the exact issue or problem was.
It was Solana and Larijani’s second meeting in just over a month after a fruitless head-to-head in Turkey in late April.
Prior to the meeting, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called on Iran to shift its stance of ignoring sanctions-backed UN demands to halt uranium enrichment work, but Tehran remained defiant.
Speaking in Vienna, the headquarters of the IAEA, Rice urged Tehran “to change tactics” and agree to suspend its enrichment work, which Washington charges is part of a covert nuclear weapons programme.
“The international community is united on what Iran should do and that is to suspend; to demonstrate that it is in fact not seeking a nuclear weapon under cover of civil nuclear power,” Rice said.
She also repeated Washington’s offer to join multiparty talks on trade, security and technological benefits for Iran if the Islamic state acceded to UN demands.
The Madrid meeting was the first between Solana and Larijani since the expiration of a 60-day time limit set by the United Nations for Iran to stop enriching uranium, a process which can be used both to make nuclear fuel and, in highly purified form, the fissile core of an atomic bomb.
Iran denies it is seeking nuclear weapons, saying it wants only to produce energy for a growing population whose fossil fuels will eventually run out.
Observers said before Thursday’s meeting that it had little chance of achieving any breakthrough, with Tehran showing no sign of buckling under increasing international pressure.
“There is no possible path for the suspension of the enrichment of uranium,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad Ali Hosseini said.
“Iran will use all legal and judicial means to realize its legitimate rights and will not halt its nuclear activities,” he added.
And Larijani, speaking before flying to Madrid on Wednesday, had said that suspending enrichment was “not a logical way” to resolve the nuclear issue.
Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight most industrialised nations said this week that they are prepared to back “appropriate measures” if Iran fails to compromise.
The US is leading calls by Western powers for existing sanctions on Iran to be tightened. The UN Security Council first imposed sanctions on Iran in December for rejecting its demands, and then modestly increased them in March.