Iran expects "new ideas" from EU to end impasse

Iran Materials 25 April 2007 16:55 (UTC +04:00)

( Reuters ) - Iran's nuclear negotiator said he expected the European Union to float "new ideas" at talks on Wednesday over Tehran's refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.

Hopes for a breakthrough at the talks between Iran's Ali Larijani and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana were dampened in the run-up by a renewed Iranian vow not to stop enrichment despite increasing sanctions pressure.

Arriving for the talks in Turkey's capital, Larijani said "irrational" Western preconditions -- an allusion to calls for a halt to all Iranian uranium enrichment activity -- had thwarted diplomacy in the quest for a peaceful solution.

"That's why there are other, new ideas. We are supposed to be introduced (to them). That's why we are here," he told reporters before his first face-to-face session with Solana in two months. He did not elaborate.

The United States and key allies suspect Iran of harboring a secret nuclear arms program. Tehran says its enrichment work is only for electricity production and is vital for its economy.

After a string of futile EU-Iran contacts stretching back almost a year, there have been diplomatic hints the two sides could entertain a face-saving compromise based on a partial or temporary suspension of Iran's program.

They surfaced again this week, prompting Washington to deny that Western powers were edging away from the U.N. Security Council resolution they engineered calling for a complete moratorium as a precondition for negotiations on a solution.

An EU diplomat described the fresh media report of Western preparedness to accept a limited suspension as "ridiculous."

Solana's aides said he would encourage Larijani at the talks, due to begin at 1400 GMT, to accept a "double suspension" -- a halt to all enrichment-related activity in exchange for a shelving of action to implement Security Council sanctions.

That is the Council's formula for jump-starting negotiations on trade incentives offered to Iran not to pursue enrichment.

While Iran has offered to explore how to guarantee no military diversion of nuclear materials, it has ruled out shutting down its expanding enrichment effort in a vast bunker shielded by anti-aircraft guns against a feared U.S. attack.

Tehran says the program is irreversible and the West should now accept it as a member of the nuclear club. A second set of U.N. sanctions were imposed on Iran last month.

However, Iran's former ambassador to France, Sadeq Kharrazi, who was a member of Iran's former nuclear negotiating team and retains insight on current diplomacy, told Reuters: "The situation has changed and needs fresh initiatives. Larijani is prepared to reach an understanding over Iran's nuclear issue."

Solana voiced hope for Iranian "openness" to finding common ground for serious negotiations to resolve the standoff.

EU officials said Solana's Ankara trip was worthwhile to re-explore any leeway for negotiations and stressed the EU's "dual track" strategy of balancing the sticks of sanctions with the carrot of trade benefits via negotiations.

Tehran said this month it had launched more than 1,300 centrifuges and begun feeding them with uranium for enrichment, but diplomats said it was "test-scale" and nowhere near the "industrial-scale" capacity Tehran proclaimed on April 9.

Diplomats familiar with inspections by the U.N. watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), say Tehran will not master major enrichment technology for several years at least.

"If the (West) really wants to block progress (towards an Iranian bomb), it is easy enough to do -- just start negotiating without preconditions, and let Iran save face and keep a small enrichment program, with the IAEA monitoring," one said.