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. EU's Solana, Iran's new nuclear pointman have 'constructive' talks
ROME, Oct 23 (AFP) Oct 23, 2007
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iran's new hardline nuclear pointman Saeed Jalili met for the first time on Tuesday for talks both sides described as "constructive."

"There might be a (second) meeting before the end of November," Solana said after the talks with Jalili and his conservative but pragmatic predecessor, Ali Larijani.

It was Solana's first sit-down with Jalili, whose appointment has been viewed as possibly signalling a tougher Iranian stance in the long-running dispute over its contested nuclear programme.

Larijani, whose presence at the talks intrigued observers after his sudden resignation at the weekend, told a press briefing: "I thanked Mr Solana for these constructive talks which were clear and transparent."

Jalili, close to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, took over as chief nuclear negotiator on Sunday after Larijani resigned reportedly because of a falling out with the president over the handling of the nuclear row.

But Larijani appeared to deny the existence of a rift with Ahmadinejad, saying: "A lot has been said about my resignation. It has been said that it was for personal reasons, but I have no personal problems" with the president.

For his part, Solana said he hoped "very much (that) I will continue to have the possibility to work" with Larijani.

"We're going to follow the same course Larijani did," Jalili said, adding: "We think there are real opportunities to develop this cooperation."

He said Iran's position was based on principle, but that there was room for negotiation to arrive at "conclusions acceptable to the two sides."

Ahead of the talks, Jalili vowed to "continue the nuclear discussions with strength."

"The nuclear issue is an issue on which there is a consensus and national harmony," he told Iranian state media in Rome. "Many efforts have been made in this field and God willing this process will continue with strength."

"Even if there is a change in president, the policy will not change," he said.

Solana, negotiating on behalf of major powers Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia and the United States, was expected to renew an offer first made in June last year of an extensive package of political and economic incentives in exchange for Iran giving up uranium enrichment.

"It's a case of finding out once more whether there is the possibility of starting negotiations" on the offer, Solana's spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said ahead of the talks.

She argued that the package "gives Iran all it requires for a civil nuclear programme ... and would open the way for a political relationship which would bring Iran out of its current isolation."

The United States says Iran's enrichment operations are aimed at fuelling a covert nuclear weapons programme, while Iran insists it wants only to generate energy and has every right to the full nuclear fuel cycle.

Just hours before the Rome talks began, US President George W. Bush warned that Iran could develop an intercontinental ballistic missile able to reach the United States and all of Europe before 2015.

Last week, Bush suggested that a nuclear-equipped Iran evoked the threat of "World War III".

Larijani's replacement has not passed without criticism in Iran where almost 200 MPs signed a letter on Tuesday expressing appreciation of his work on the nuclear issue.

"The resignation of Larijani shows that the circle of people in the executive is shrinking and its capacity for using the services of past officials is falling," said former Iranian vice president Mohammad Hashemi.

Larijani was believed to support a more moderate line in the nuclear standoff -- at least over the presentation of policy.

Earlier Tuesday, Ahmadinejad cut short a visit to Armenia and returned home "for urgent reasons," according to Armenian presidential spokesman Viktor Sogomonian.

A diplomatic source in Yerevan said the president's abrupt departure was prompted by concern over the "internal political situation" in Iran and the negotiations in Rome.

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