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. EU, Iran hold final nuclear talks as new sanctions beckon
BRUSSELS, Nov 29 (AFP) Nov 29, 2007
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana will cast final judgement Friday on whether Iran might be willing to suspend sensitive nuclear activities, with new UN sanctions seeming all but inevitable.

Solana is to meet Iran's top nuclear envoy, Saeed Jalili, in London to hear the Islamic republic's case just hours before reporting to major world powers on what little progress he has made in almost 18 months of contacts.

Ahead of the meeting, which the EU's top diplomat had insisted should have taken place far earlier in the month, Iranian government spokesman Gholam Hossein Elham said that Jalili "will present new ideas and initiatives".

Normally extremely optimistic, Solana has appeared increasingly frustrated as time has slipped away for him to make his evaluation to the UN Security Council by the November 30 deadline.

"I hope that they will find time in their calendar to meet this week," he said on November 19. According to one diplomat in Brussels, an effort to set a meeting up was cancelled due to an Iran official's "diplomatic sickness".

Iran insists that its nuclear programme is for civilian purposes, but its past obstruction of the UN's atomic watchdog has fuelled fears that Tehran is trying to covertly develop the bomb; a charge it firmly denies.

Tehran is under two sets of UN Security Council sanctions, as well as unilateral US sanctions, for refusing to suspend uranium enrichment, which can fuel a nuclear reactor or, at highly refined levels, be used to build an atomic weapon.

Solana has been trying to create the conditions for broader negotiations in which Tehran would halt nuclear enrichment in exchange for a package of political, economic and trade incentives.

"What we are waiting for (from the talks) is, once again, to create the appropriate framework for the formal negotiations to begin," his spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said.

The catch is whether Iran should suspend enrichment before they start.

"Suspension is a step backward and is not on the agenda of the talks," the Iranian government spokesman reaffirmed Tuesday.

Such comments have convinced many western countries that Iran will only continue the diplomatic brinksmanship that western officials claim has marked negotiations over its nuclear programme.

Tehran has played off the five permanent security council members plus Germany -- the six powers involved in the dossier -- counting on China and Russia to block further sanctions demanded by the United States.

The EU too has been talking up the possibility of its own sanctions, but Germany, and to a lesser extent Italy, has massive business interests in Iran and wants to keep the sanction process at UN headquarters in New York.

And Iran may count on those differences working in its favour again.

On September 28, the six decided to wait until the end of November before making their final decision on the need for new sanctions.

They called for International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohamed ElBaradei to report on Iran's cooperation and Solana to inform them whether there was still life in the diplomatic track.

ElBaradei said last week that, even after four years of investigations, his agency still cannot say once and for all that Iran's nuclear drive is entirely peaceful.

But his report was subject to different interpretations by the six powers, placing extra weight on Solana's evaluation.

Once Friday's talks -- scheduled to start at 10:00 am (1000 GMT) -- are over, the EU's top diplomat is expected to contact the six powers, possibly by telephone or by letter.

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