Iran Nuclear NewsEuropean diplomat cites gains in Iran talks

European diplomat cites gains in Iran talks

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International Herald Tribune: The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, offered Friday his most upbeat assessment to date on the nuclear impasse, insisting that talks to persuade Iran to suspend uranium enrichment were progressing. International Herald Tribune

By DAN BILEFSKY

BRUSSELS, Sept. 15 — The European Union’s foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, offered Friday his most upbeat assessment to date on the nuclear impasse, insisting that talks to persuade Iran to suspend uranium enrichment were progressing.

“I can say honestly that we’re making progress,” he told reporters. “It doesn’t mean that everything has been solved.”

In another sign that some headway is being made, a senior Bush administration official said later that Mr. Solana would meet with Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, in New York on Sunday. The official, and others cited in this article, insisted they not be quoted by name, following normal diplomatic protocol.

The European Union is softening its previous position that Iran must suspend enrichment before any negotiations can begin. Instead, officials said, there was momentum behind a twin-track approach of starting negotiations before enrichment is halted while simultaneously allowing discussion of possible penalties against Iran to continue at the United Nations.

The United States has insisted that Iran suspend enrichment before any negotiations can take place, though on Tuesday Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said the administration might stop seeking to impose sanctions if Iran suspended enrichment. European Union officials said they were still examining an offer by Iran last weekend temporarily to suspend its nuclear enrichment program in return for the beginning of negotiations over a package of economic and political incentives offered by the West.

A senior French diplomat close to the talks said that the mood in European diplomacy toward Iran had shifted. “Things with Iran are not as difficult as they were before,” the official said. “There is a growing sense that suspension and negotiations can happen in parallel, and that flexibility is better than a dead end.”

The United States acknowledged Thursday that it faced resistance from crucial allies over its attempt to press for sanctions.

President Bush, who will visit the United Nations next week for meetings, said Friday he was worried Iran was trying to drag out the process with the United States and its European allies.

“My concern is that they’ll stall, they’ll try to wait us out,” he said. “So part of my objective in New York is to remind people that stalling shouldn’t be allowed. We need to move the process.”

Mr. Solana played down the threat of sanctions, saying that Washington was still willing to give diplomacy a chance. “I don’t think our American friends will be losing their patience,” he said.

But he cautioned that the window for negotiations would not stay open indefinitely. “The United Nations resolution is a track that is still open,” he said, but added: “Dialogue will not last forever. That is not our idea.”

Helene Cooper contributed reporting from Washington.

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