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. No accord in Iran-EU nuclear talks; US warns of sanctions
BERLIN, Sept 28 (AFP) Sep 29, 2006
Iran and the European Union failed to reach agreement in talks Thursday on Tehran's disputed nuclear programme, prompting the United States to warn the Islamic republic the clock was ticking on sanctions.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said that although an accord was elusive, the negotiations had been positive and constructive.

"It has been a long, constructive negotiation," Larijani told reporters at the end of two days of meetings in the German capital.

"We have been able to arrive at some positive conclusions.

"Today we have discussed modalities with the aim of coming back to the main negotiations as soon as possible."

Solana said in a news conference: "We have been progressing. We will have a new contact in the middle of next week."

Sources close to the talks said the contact could take place over the phone and did not necessarily mean they would be meeting face to face.

In Washington, US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack reaffirmed that a new deadline for Iranian compliance that was agreed last week among the permanent five UN Security Council members and Germany -- the so-called P-5-plus-1 nations -- was looming and would not be changed.

"The timeline that was agreed in New York stays, and we are getting short now in terms of that time," he said, referring to the moment when the six nations would seek UN sanctions against Tehran.

The deadline has not been officially revealed by the six nations, which also include Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, but European diplomats involved in the negotiations said it was sometime next week.

"The ball is in their court," McCormack said Thursday of the Iranians.

"Nobody wants to go down the path of sanctions -- that is not our first choice," he said.

"But we are prepared, along with the P-5-plus-1, to go down that path if that's the door that the Iranian regime wants to open," he said.

Meanwhile, the US House of Representatives approved legislation to ramp up economic pressure on Iran in an effort to convince Tehran to abandon its nuclear programme.

Republican Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, author of the Iran Freedom Support Act, said the bill would deny Iran "the technical assistance, financial resources, and political legitimacy to develop nuclear weapons and support terrorism."

Iran ignored an August 31 deadline set by the UN Security Council for it to suspend uranium enrichment and reprocessing activities that Washington and others believe is a cover for developing nuclear weapons.

Tehran insists the program is only for producing fuel for nuclear power stations.

The UN resolution allows for sanctions, but these would have to be elaborated in another set of UN documents which Washington is currently working on with its Security Council partners in parallel with the Solana-Larijani talks, McCormack said.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice spoke with Solana about the talks on Wednesday night and was expected to get another briefing from the EU official Thursday, McCormack said.

The EU-Iran talks focus on a list of economic and diplomatic incentives put forward by the six powers in June as a reward if Iran suspends its uranium enrichment.

The incentives include support for an Iranian nuclear power industry and the first direct contacts between the US and Iran in nearly 30 years.

McCormack insisted that negotiations involving the United States could begin only after Iran freezes its enrichment program and the suspension is verified by monitors from the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The Solana-Larijani talks were believed to be focussing on the "sequencing" of a possible decision by Iran to temporarily suspend enrichment and the subsequent start of full negotiations on the incentives package.

European diplomats said Larijani has offered a temporary suspension, but it was unclear if the proposal had the support of the various factions within the Iranian leadership.

A senior US official recently said there were signs of a "great debate" in Tehran between those willing to offer concessions in exchange for improved relations with the West and officials intent on Iran developing its own nuclear capability.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took a hard line Thursday when he told supporters in a nationally televised speech that Iran "will not bend one inch against any force and pressure" over the nuclear issue.

The negotiations were given a fresh chance after Washington, under pressure from Europe and China, backed down on its demand for immediate sanctions against Iran for failing to meet the August 31 deadline.

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