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. Positions harden ahead of talks on Iran nuclear programme
POTSDAM, Germany, May 30 (AFP) May 30, 2007
The dispute over Iran's nuclear ambitions intensified Wednesday on the eve of talks between Tehran's top nuclear negotiator and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana in Madrid.

Foreign ministers from the Group of Eight most industrialised nations meeting in Potsdam, Germany, said they were prepared to back "appropriate measures" if Iran failed to heed UN Security Council demands to halt uranium enrichment.

The warning came just hours after Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani said in Tehran that suspending enrichment was "not a logical way" to resolve the long-running dispute.

Larijani is to meet in Madrid on Thursday with Solana in their latest bid to break the deadlock in the Iranian atomic standoff, which has already seen Tehran slapped with two sets of UN sanctions.

"We deeply regret that Iran ... has further expanded its enrichment activities," the G8 ministers said in a joint statement.

"If Iran continues to refuse to heed the call of the Security Council, we will support further appropriate measures," they said.

Iran's right to enrichment is the main obstacle toward resolving the standoff as the sensitive process can be used both to make nuclear fuel and, in highly extended form, to produce the fissile core of an atomic bomb.

The United States accuses Iran of seeking nuclear weapons, a charge vehemently denied by Tehran, which says it just wants to produce energy for a growing population whose fossil fuels will eventually run out.

The G8 ministers said they were "deeply concerned" by Iran's nuclear activities and expressed their "shared duty" to find a solution to the dispute.

However, comments from Larijani earlier in the day provided little cause for optimism for those seeking a breakthrough in Madrid.

"Suspension is not a logical way to resolve Iran's nuclear issue," he told reporters at a Tehran airport before flying off to Spain.

Larijani and Solana last met in April in Ankara -- discussions that the EU foreign policy chief's spokeswoman described as "positive in form but not fruitful in substance."

Larijani said on Wednesday that "positive points were discussed in Ankara", describing them as "buds which need to grow on an international level to resolve the issue."

Echoing Tehran's often-heard position, Larijani said Iran "is ready to implement mechanisms to alleviate other countries' concerns over the nature of its nuclear programme.

The foreign ministers in Potsdam were meeting ahead of next week's G8 summit in Heiligendamm, Germany, which will bring together the leaders of Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia and the United States.

Russia has previously resisted urging from the West to increase pressure on Tehran to open its civilian nuclear programme to closer scrutiny.

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