Reuters: Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani offered a 2-month suspension of Tehran’s nuclear enrichment programme in weekend talks with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, an EU diplomat said on Sunday. By Mark Heinrich
VIENNA, Sept 10 (Reuters) – Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani offered a 2-month suspension of Tehran’s nuclear enrichment programme in weekend talks with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, an EU diplomat said on Sunday.
But it was unclear if Iran would meet the Western demand it suspend enrichment before the start of any talks on trade incentives. An Iranian official denied Tehran had offered any freeze on enrichment.
Larijani and Solana said they had cleared up some misunderstandings in seven hours of talks in Vienna and would meet again in the coming week.
Their upbeat verdicts could slow Washington’s push for swift U.N. Security Council action this month to impose sanctions on Iran over its atomic fuel work. Europe had already indicated misgivings about isolating the world’s No. 4 oil supplier.
The EU diplomat said the suspension offer did not appear to be a significant concession since Washington and others want a long-term suspension to restore confidence that Iran’s nuclear programme is geared only to generate electricity, as it insists, and not to produce atomic weapons.
“We don’t know any details about when it would begin; whether before or after negotiations with Iran,” the diplomat told Reuters. “Two months is nothing,” he added.
Aliasghar Soltanieh, Iranian ambassador to the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency who accompanied Larijani during part of his visit, denied that a suspension had been discussed with Solana.
White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters: “We are still trying to assess what the Iranian position is…. There have been times where Larijani and the foreign ministry have spoken with different voices.”
The Vienna talks had been regarded as a last chance to explore a face-saving compromise before possible punitive action after Iran ignored an Aug. 31 Security Council deadline to stop purifying uranium for use as nuclear fuel.
PUSH FOR SANCTIONS SLOWING?
“The meetings … have been productive. We clarified some of the misunderstandings we had before” about Iran’s 21-page reply to six world powers’ offer of trade inducements to halt nuclear fuel work, Solana told reporters.
“We…want to continue in that line and for that purpose we are going to meet again next week,” he said. An EU diplomat said Solana meant another meeting later this week, most likely on Thursday.
Larijani, standing beside Solana, said: “We reached common points of view on a number of issues. And as mentioned by Dr Solana, many of the misunderstandings were removed. Our meetings will continue.”
Solana consulted with foreign ministers of the six powers by phone during the talks and would brief them on the results before they hold a conference call on Monday to discuss what to do next, EU diplomats said.
The six powers — the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China — have publicly insisted Iran suspend its enrichment programme before negotiations to foster trust.
But fearing the repercussions of ostracising a strategic and economic giant in the Middle East, many in the EU prefer a face-saving compromise that might lie in getting Tehran to curb enrichment during any talks on the inducements.
Russia and China, heavy trade partners with Iran, see no immediate security threat from its nuclear work, oppose sanctions and could veto them in the Council. Both believe there is room for a diplomatic solution despite the violated deadline.
(Additional reporting by Lou Charbonneau in Berlin, Karin Strohecker in Vienna, Edmund Blair and Parisa Hafezi in Tehran and Paul Taylor in Brussels)