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. EU, Iran to hold nuclear talks as new sanctions loom
LONDON, Nov 30 (AFP) Nov 30, 2007
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana will hold last-ditch talks with Iran on Friday seeking a solution to the crisis over Tehran's nuclear programme, but new UN sanctions seem 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".

But on the eve of the talks hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad remained defiant in the teeth of pressure for Tehran to suspend sensitive nuclear activities.

"Iran today, under the guidance and wisdom of the supreme leader (Ayatollah Ali Khamenei) and its resistance, has become a nuclear nation," Ahmadinejad was quoted as telling prayer leaders in Tehran late Wednesday.

"After this, no-one can threaten the Iranian nation as we have all stood united so far and they (the West) did not do anything," he added in the comments, reported by the state IRNA agency Thursday.

Solana, normally extremely optimistic, 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.

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