EU-Iranian talks on Tehran's nuclear defiance to be held in Vienna

Saturday, September 9th 2006, 9:36 am
By: News On 6

VIENNA, Austria AP) _ Iran and the European Union confirmed Saturday that crucial European-Iranian talks would be held in Vienna, billed by the international community as the last chance for Iran to avoid U.N. sanctions over its nuclear defiance.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said Friday that Washington expected the Security Council to start discussing a draft on sanctions as early as next week unless Tehran does a last-minute turn and agrees to freeze enrichment, a possible pathway to nuclear arms.

Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, was to meet with senior Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani to seek common ground to start negotiations between Tehran and six world powers dangling rewards if the Islamic republic gives up uranium enrichment _ and punishment if it does not.

Ali Ashgar Soltanieh, Iran's chief delegate to the International Atomic Energy, told The Associated Press on Saturday that Larijani already was in Vienna ``and the meeting will take place this afternoon.''

European and Iranian officials said the talks would begin at 5 p.m. (11 a.m. EDT). The officials, who requested anonymity in exchange for sharing the confidential information, declined to say where the two would meet.

The five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany have agreed on a package of economic and political rewards in June to be offered to Tehran, but only if it stops enrichment before the start of such negotiations, meant to achieve a long-term enrichment moratorium.

But Tehran, which claims its nuclear program is aimed only at generating electricity, has remained defiant and refused to freeze uranium enrichment by an Aug. 31 deadline set by the U.N. Security Council.

The six nation alliance _ the United States, France, Britain, China, Russia and Germany _ has warned of punishments, including U.N. sanctions, if Tehran continues to refuse to halt enrichment. Saturday's talks were seen as a last-ditch attempt to reach agreement.

Recent statements from some government officials suggest that Russia, China and France might be leaning toward dropping the demand that Iran stop enrichment before talks begin, in exchange for a commitment to discuss such a moratorium as part of negotiations. But Burns dismissed suggestions of cracks in the coalition on that or other issues, in comments a day after the six countries ended confidential discussions in Berlin.

Outlining the U.S. view of the timetable on Iran in the coming weeks, Burns said the six nations would consult further by phone on Monday and hoped to present a unified approach on sanctions to their foreign ministers by the time the U.N. General Assembly opens Tuesday.

``It's fair to say we have ... a lot more work to do,'' he said, adding: ``The American view is that following these discussions on Monday and perhaps some others early next week, we should move this to the Security Council and draft a resolution'' on sanctions.