( AFP ) - The EU foreign policy chief and Iran's top nuclear negotiator held last-ditch talks on Tehran's nuclear plans Friday, but hopes of a breakthrough appeared slim amid a growing threat of new sanctions.
The Iranian delegation sought to put a positive spin on the talks between Javier Solana and Tehran envoy Saeed Jalili, which came hours before a deadline for Solana to report back to major world powers.
Western nations suspect Iran is using its nuclear programme to covertly develop a nuclear bomb. Despite Iran denials, the United States and its allies are pressing for stronger UN sanctions against Tehran.
"We are optimistic .. We are going to present new ideas to Solana," an Iranian official told AFP.
Solana's spokeswoman said the EU's top diplomat -- meeting the new Iranian negotiator for the first time since he was named in October -- had no new proposals himself, but had an open mind on what Tehran had to say.
"He's here to listen to Mr Jalili and what Iranians put on the table," said Cristina Gallach, adding that the two sides were expected to issue a statement after the talks.
Solana was then expected to brief the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Britain whose representatives are scheduled to meet in Paris on Saturday.
"The communication of Mr. Solana will be presented in a few hours or tomorrow through the participation of his senior adviser in the talks in Paris," she said.
US critics say Iran is continuing a long-standing strategy of diplomatic brinksmanship, offering last-minute compromises to delay further sanctions while pressing ahead with its nuclear plans.
Solana, normally extremely optimistic, has appeared increasingly frustrated as time has slipped away for him to make his evaluation to the UN Security Council by the November 30 deadline.
Tehran is under two sets of UN sanctions, as well as unilateral US sanctions, for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment, which can fuel a nuclear reactor or, at highly refined levels, be used to build an atomic weapon.
The United States in particular is threatening new UN sanctions, although if these cannot be agreed Washington is believed to be ready to impose unilateral sanctions, as could Britain and France.
Solana has been trying to create the conditions for broader negotiations in which Tehran would halt nuclear enrichment in exchange for a package of political, economic and trade incentives.
"The objective of this kind of meeting is to try and create the appropriate framework for a formal negotiation with the Iranians," said Gallach.
Critics say Tehran has played off the five permanent security council members plus Germany -- the six powers involved in the dossier -- counting on China and Russia to block further sanctions demanded by the United States.
Experts say prospects for defusing the West's nuclear standoff with Iran appear increasingly thin.
"I fear we might be on a path that might bring us to war. Diplomacy has not worked," said former US State Department official Mark Fitzpatrick, speaking to reporters in Berlin on Thursday.
Even as the talks got underway Iran's former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani warned the West to avoid threats.
"Threats and fear-mongering make Iran more serious and guard against them,"
he said in his Friday prayer sermon, broadcast live on state radio.
"If their objective from negotiations is adventurism, they must rest assured that their fate in Iran will be definitely worse than the one they ended up by invasions of other places," the prominent cleric said.