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. Iranian nuclear negotiator to meet UN atomic agency chief
VIENNA, Feb 9 (AFP) Feb 09, 2007
Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani is to meet in Vienna Friday with the chief of the UN watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, an agency spokesman said.

Larijani is on his way to Munich for an international security conference at which European countries will seek a breakthrough in the crisis over Iran's nuclear programme, diplomats have told AFP.

The spokesman said "this is the sort of meeting that occurs regularly," as Larijani often consults with ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which monitors Iran's compliance with with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

ElBaradei proposed in January a "time-out" in the confrontation over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

Iran rejects a UN Security Council resolution of December 23 which imposed limited sanctions to force it to stop enriching uranium. ElBaradei has proposed that in simultaneous moves Iran should suspend enrichment and the United Nations should hold off on sanctions.

A diplomat close to the IAEA said European states would be seeking in Munich to use informal contacts with Larijani to get Iran "to come up with some realistic, achievable proposals" to meet the UN demands.

The uranium enrichment uses centrifuges to make fuel for civilian nuclear reactors but can also be used to make material for bombs. It is at the heart of US charges that Iran is hiding work to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran insists its programme is peaceful.

A second diplomat said the best outcome, on the sidelines of the Conference on Security Policy being held in the southern German city from Friday to Sunday, would be for European Union powers Britain, Germany and France, along with Russia and China to hold a meeting with Iran.

"They might agree on some sort of framework or concept under which the Iranians will pull the plug on centrifuges for a couple of months" -- opening the door to wider talks including the United States -- and for the Security Council to take "no action for that period" on sanctions.

Moscow supports ElBaradei's "time-out" proposal.

But diplomacy in Munich could be stilled by the long shadow of the United States, and perhaps hardline allies like Britain, which reject such simultaneity and want any Iranian enrichment pause to come first and be unconditional in order to keep Iran from winning additional time to continue strategic fuel work.

US officials have pointed out that once Iran met its commitments to stop such fuel work, the Security Council would suspend its sanctions, as the resolution makes clear.

But diplomats said some European states were at least playing with the idea of a face-saving solution along the lines of a "time-out" that fudges the need for Iran to unconditionally stand-down.

The Security Council could impose tougher sanctions if a report by ElBaradei later this month shows Tehran continuing to defy the Security Council, especially since Iran is pressing ahead with building an underground plant at Natanz for industrial-level uranium enrichment.

The Munich meeting gathers international leaders in a framework that favours informal contacts.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, new US Defence Secretary Robert Gates and European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who led the EU's stalled talks with Iran, will all be at the conference.

Non-proliferation analyst Mark Fitzpatrick, of the London think tank the International Institute for Strategic Studies, said: "Iran will be looking for a way to escape further sanctions" but he said that what Larijani "has to offer will likely fall short of the Security Council's resolution for a verified suspension."

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