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. EU's Solana says nuclear talks with Iran 'difficult'
PARIS, July 7 (AFP) Jul 07, 2008
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana on Monday said he was not too optimistic about prospects for a breakthrough with Iran on its suspect nuclear programme, saying: "It's difficult."

Solana said he hoped to meet soon with Iran's chief nuclear negotiator after Tehran on Friday delivered its response to an international offer to halt uranium enrichment, which the West fears could be used to make nuclear weapons.

"I hope that we will be able to continue the dialogue in the coming weeks.... We'll see, but I don't want to give the impression of being too optimistic," Solana told reporters on the sidelines of an EU-NATO meeting in Paris.

"It's difficult," he said, describing the response from Tehran as a "complicated and difficult letter that must be thoroughly analysed."

Asked when he planned to meet with top Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, Solana said "I hope before the end of the month."

He added that world powers were still in talks about Iran's response to the package presented by permanent UN Security Council members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany.

In Tehran, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad insisted Iran would not give up its right to a nuclear programme and dismissed calls for Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment as a "repetitive scenario".

"On one side they (world powers) ask to negotiate and on the other they threaten and say that we must give in to their illegal demands and renounce our rights," he was quoted by the official IRNA news agency as saying.

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said he had read an "outline" of the response and that he did not hold out much hope of a breakthrough.

"I don't think that it provides great hope. But it gives a little bit of hope," Kouchner said.

Russia appeared to turn up the pressure on Tehran, with President Dmitry Medvedev's diplomatic advisor saying that Moscow expected Iran to reciprocate to the latest offer.

"Russia will do everything to stimulate dialogue with Iran and expects corresponding signals from the leaders of Iran," said Sergei Prikhodko in Japan where Group of Eight leaders were meeting.

The United States said it was consulting its partners.

"We'll just have to see how that is received by others before we make a formal response," said White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.

In an effort to persuade Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, the six powers have reworked an offer of technology and trade incentives originally made in 2006.

Solana presented the offer during talks with Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki on June 14 and held a long phone conversation with Jalili on Friday.

Jalili has said his country submitted a "constructive and creative" response with "a focus on common ground," but he did not elaborate on the contents.

Iran on Saturday offered to negotiate on its nuclear drive but without a freeze on uranium enrichment, in its first comments since responding to the package.

Diplomatic sources said Solana may hold pre-negotiations during which world powers would refrain from new sanctions provided Iran did not start operating any more centrifuges to enrich uranium.

Iran insists its programme to develop nuclear energy is peaceful, but Western powers fear Tehran is seeking to develop atomic weapons.

The West has warned that Tehran faces more sanctions from the United Nations and European Union if it does not freeze enrichment.

US President George W. Bush has not ruled out using force in the nuclear standoff, but emphasised that he preferred a diplomatic solution.

Speculation has been rife that Israel could be planning a military strike against Iranian nuclear sites, using force to halt Tehran's controversial atomic activities.

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