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EU gives Iran two weeks to clarify stance

Rex Merrifield and Ingrid Melander / News.com.au | September 2 2006

EUROPEAN Union foreign ministers agreed today to take two more weeks to try to clarify Iran's stance on halting sensitive nuclear work after Tehran ignored a UN deadline to stop uranium enrichment.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana will meet Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, in Europe early next week to clear up ambiguities in Tehran's 21-page reply to a major power offer of cooperation if it stops work that could help build a bomb.

Slovenian Foreign Minister Dimitrij Rupel told Reuters after the 25 ministers discussed the issue at a meeting in Finland: "We give Solana two weeks for his clarification talks."

Mr Solana and other ministers insisted there was no deadline, but he said time was short and he would report to ministers at their next regular meeting on September 15.

He said he would be talking with Larijani also on behalf of the six powers which agreed on the package of economic, technological and political incentives - the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany.

An EU official said there could be consultations among United Nations Security Council members before then but the Council would not formally take up the matter.

Iran defied an August 31 UN deadline to halt uranium enrichment and has given no sign it is prepared to meet the international community's key condition for opening negotiations on economic, technological and political co-operation.

Asked when he now expected Tehran to comply with the UN resolution, Mr Solana said: "Yesterday."

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad remained defiant today as UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan visited Tehran for talks on Lebanon and the nuclear dispute.

"Our nation is a supporter of peace but it will not retreat an iota from its right to nuclear technology," the ISNA student news agency quoted him as saying.

EU diplomats said ministers wanted to take a bit more time not so much because they believed Tehran would have a change of heart but more to show public opinion and sceptical Security Council powers Russia and China they had explored every avenue.

"After what happened on Iraq and weapons of mass destruction, we really have to convince people that we have gone the extra mile," one said.

Ministers declined to talk publicly about what sanctions they might apply if Tehran did not comply.
However, British Europe Minister Geoff Hoon said Iran had had plenty of time to respond to what he called the perfectly reasonable request and he had called for "robust action".

"Despite our intensive efforts of the last six months, there has up to today unfortunately been no signal of reciprocity from Iran," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier told reporters.

But he added: "We in the EU and Germany have no interest in an escalation in the coming days and weeks due to deliberations in the Security Council."

French Europe Minister Catherine Colonna said it was important to continue the dialogue with Tehran while reminding Iran of the international community's conditions.

Asked how long Iran had to comply with the Security Council's demands on its nuclear program, she said: "Rendezvous in a few days."


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