EU-Iran talks run down

October 05, 2006|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

PARIS --Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, suggested yesterday that talks with Iran over its nuclear program have all but reached a dead end, saying the matter would be referred to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions unless Tehran agreed quickly to suspend uranium enrichment work.

Underscoring the divide, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, repeated his position yesterday that Tehran is willing to continue to talk but not to consider halting nuclear enrichment work for even one day.

Solana told the European Parliament, according to a statement released by his office, that despite negotiating for "endless hours," Iran has still not made a commitment to suspend its nuclear enrichment work, the "key point" in the talks.

"Dialogue could not last forever," Solana said. Referring to the possibility of sanctions, he said, "It is up to them to decide whether the time has come to follow the second track."

Solana said "the door to negotiations is always open," and he has said before that there has been no breakthrough on suspending enrichment work, as the Security Council called for.

But the tone of his latest remarks was more negative than earlier statements, which rankled other European officials who saw him as grasping for straws of progress.

Together, the remarks by Solana and Ahmadinejad appeared to signal the winding down of four months of what have amounted to talks about talks. A coalition of the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China has been working since early June to persuade Iran to suspend its work on uranium enrichment, as a precondition to discussing a package of incentives for Iran to abandon its nuclear program entirely.

Iran insists that its program is for peaceful purposes only, while the United States contends that it is a cover for the development of nuclear weapons.

American officials initially insisted that Iran had "weeks, not months," in President Bush's words, to respond to the June offer of incentives. But when China and Russia opposed any quick move toward sanctions, the Americans allowed Solana to engage in discussions of the proposal with Iran, while criticizing Iran's eventual response as little more than playing for time.

The coalition's patience might have come to an end Tuesday, when an Iranian official brought up an entirely new proposal, suggesting that France organize and monitor the production of enriched uranium inside Iran.

The United States, France and Britain quickly rejected the proposal, saying it was a stalling tactic that fell far short of the Security Council's demand that Iran freeze all uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities.

The proposal also caused some European governments' frustration with Solana to boil over. They were irritated at him for presenting the results of his talks in too positive a light, several European officials said.

Solana has acknowledged the lack of progress on substantive issues, telling reporters in Finland on Monday, "The fundamental matter of suspension has not been agreed." But he has repeatedly pointed to "progress" on peripheral issues, such as where and when further negotiations with the six governments would take place.

On Tuesday, Solana appeared to keep the door open to Iran's new proposal, describing it as "interesting" and adding, "This is something we have to analyze in greater detail."

Yesterday, too, Solana said that "for us, and for me, the door to negotiation will always remain open." For its part, Iran backed away from its proposal for French-supervised enrichment, according to the Iranian Student News agency, which often reflects official thinking.

In two speeches broadcast yesterday on Iranian television, Ahmadinejad said he was ready to continue talks but said his country "will not step back one inch from its legal rights."

"They want to negotiate with us after we suspend our program," he said. "Negotiations are no good if we suspend our program."

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