Thursday, July 06, 2006

No Formal Iran-EU Talks 'til July 11

Solobdan Lekic, Yahoo News:
The top Iranian and EU negotiators agreed to meet Thursday night for informal discussions but postponed until next week formal talks crucial to diffusing the standoff over Iran's nuclear program, officials said. READ MORE

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, scheduled a dinner for Thursday night, said EU spokeswoman Cristina Gallach. Solana and Larijani were to discuss a package of incentives put forward by the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany and presented to Tehran by Solana in June.

Larijani had been scheduled to meet with Solana on Wednesday, but Iran canceled at the last minute, citing anger over intensified activities of exiled Iranian opposition groups in EU-member countries.

Gallach said the two delegations will meet again next Tuesday in Brussels to formally address the nuclear issue. Iranian negotiator Javad Vaeidi made the same announcement on Iranian state television.

Iranian officials have said they will seek explanations for "ambiguities" contained in the incentives package. The nations called on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment for the duration of any negotiations, and set out the priority of a long-term moratorium of such activity until the international community is convinced that Iran's nuclear aims are peaceful. The offer includes such incentives as nuclear expertise and reactors.

Western diplomats have threatened to seek Security Council sanctions against Iran unless it stops enrichment and agrees to talks by July 12, when foreign ministers of the five permanent U.N. Security Council nations and Germany consult in Paris.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Iran needed to give "a substantive response" to the Western overture before the Group of Eight leaders meet later this month in St. Petersburg, Russia.

"If indeed Iran is trying to stall, it's not going to work," Rice told reporters in Washington on Wednesday. "The international community has said that we need to get an answer, an indication of where Iran is going with this. We need to know if the path of negotiation is open or not."

Earlier this week, EU officials said they did not anticipate Larijani would fully respond to the offer but only seek clarification of several points of the package — and perhaps come up with a counterproposal.

Tehran has asserted repeatedly that its nuclear program, which includes uranium enrichment, is peaceful and aimed at generating power. But the U.S., Israel and EU fear the research program is a cover for the development of nuclear weapons.

Work on a Security Council resolution was suspended May 3 to allow the six powers to draw up the plan of perks if Iran agrees to a long-term moratorium on enrichment — or punishments that include the threat of selective U.N. sanctions if it does not.

Possible U.N.-mandated sanctions include a visa ban on government officials, freezing assets, blocking financial transactions by government figures and those involved in the country's nuclear program, an arms embargo and a blockade on the shipping of refined oil products.