Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Iran puts off nuclear talks for fear of 'assassins'

Farhad Pouladi, Yahoo News:
Iran postponed key talks in Brussels between its chief nuclear negotiator and the EU foreign policy chief until July 11 for fear of hit squads, the state news agency IRNA reported.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, meanwhile, maintained a mid-July deadline for Iran to accept an offer of incentives aimed at curbing its nuclear ambitions and warned Tehran against stalling.

"After receiving some news from Brussels that there are assassins' squads..., security officials voiced concern about the safety of the Iranian delegation" led by negotiator Ali Larijani, IRNA said.

"Therefore today's trip of Mr Larijani and the accompanying delegation to Brussels was cancelled," it added. READ MORE

"After the European side gave the necessary guarantees to secure the lives of the Iranian delegation, it was decided that the session would be held next Tuesday," said IRNA, quoting an informed source.

It added, however, that Larijani had "in order to show goodwill accepted a dinner invitation" for Thursday, in line with a demand from the EU's top diplomat Javier Solana.

Earlier, Solana rejected Iranian attempts to buy time to respond to the international offer on its nuclear programme, giving Larijani one more day to meet for talks that were due to have taken place on Wednesday.

Officially, Iran decided to delay the Brussels meeting due to the possible presence in the Belgian capital of a loathed exiled opposition leader, according to Iran's ISNA news agency.

The reference was to Maryam Rajavi, leader of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, a banned opposition group connected to the Iraq-based armed People's Mujahedeen.

The group is also outlawed in the EU and the United States.

Rajavi, based in France and one of the fiercest critics of Iran's clerical regime, cancelled a planned address to the European Parliament, saying that she did not want it serve as a "pretext" to halt the nuclear talks.

The UN Security Council is awaiting Iran's answer to an offer of economic and political incentives in exchange for a suspension of uranium enrichment. Tehran could face sanctions if it rejects the proposal.

"I had made clear to the Iranians and to Dr Larijani that we want to proceed rapidly to examine together the ideas I put to him early last month," Solana said, after the Iranians delayed the talks at the last minute.

The EU diplomat's spokeswoman, Cristina Gallach, said that Solana told Larijani that "waiting another week was impossible" and that "there had to be a contact before that".

A further round of talks has already been pencilled in for next Tuesday, the spokeswoman said.

Leaders of the Group of Eight major industrial powers had been expecting to examine Iran's response at a meeting in Saint Petersburg starting on July 15, but Iran has resisted all attempts to set a calendar.

Rice said Wednesday that "we still intend to have a substantive response from Iran before the middle of July when the heads of state will meet in Saint Petersburg...

"If, indeed, Iran is trying to stall, it's not going to work. The international community has said that we need to get an answer, an indication of where Iran is going with this," she said.