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. Iran says Solana nuclear talks July 19 in Geneva
TEHRAN, July 11 (AFP) Jul 11, 2008
Iran said on Friday that its top nuclear negotiator and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana will hold their next talks on ending the nuclear standoff on July 19, despite Western concern over the test-firing of several missiles by Tehran.

"They are to continue their negotiations about the package on Saturday, July 19" in Geneva, said Ahmad Khadem al-Melleh, spokesman for the secretariat of Iran's supreme national security council, according to the state-run IRNA agency.

World powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- last month presented Iran with a package aimed at ending the five-year-old nuclear crisis, notably offering Tehran technological incentives in exchange for suspending the sensitive process of uranium enrichment.

"The trip of Dr Jalili to Geneva is taking place after the world powers welcomed the continuation of the talks on common points in the two packages that have been proposed," the spokesman added.

Iran has proposed its own package -- a more all-embracing attempt to solve the problems of the world including the nuclear standoff -- and has made much of the common ground between the two proposals.

The French foreign ministry has, however, confirmed that Iran does not say in its response that it is prepared to suspend uranium enrichment, which world powers say they fear could be used to make a nuclear weapon.

Solana's spokeswoman Cristina Gallach declined to confirm the date, saying "we are continuing to work on the meeting and we are in the process of holding discussions" with Iran.

Iran insists that its nuclear programme is aimed solely at generating energy for a growing population whose fossil fuel reserves will eventually run out.

Tensions over the nuclear standoff surged again in the past two days after Iran test-fired a broadside of missiles -- including one it says brings Israel within range -- in war games that provoked international concern.

On Wednesday, Tehran said it test-fired its Shahab-3 missile -- the longest-range weapon in its arsenal -- and eight other missiles. It followed this by saying it fired more missiles on Thursday in land manouevres at night and naval war games by day.

But a senior US defence official said Iran appeared to have fired only a single missile on Thursday, not a second broadside as suggested by Iranian media reports.

Other US officials played down the significance of the tests, saying that no new hardware was shown.

In contrast, the European Union expressed concern on Friday about the missiles and said the tests would compound worries over Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"These missile tests can only compound the worries of the international community," said a statement from the French EU presidency, which urged Tehran to "achieve a negotiated solution to the nuclear issue,"

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the tests showed the limited range of Tehran's arsenal and proved that a planned US missile defence shield in Europe is unnecessary.

On Friday, the White House said the Iranian missile tests did not change the US determination to resolve the crisis diplomatically.

Asked if the United States was more concerned after the tests, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said: "I would just characterize it as continued Iranian defiance of international obligations... but I don't think that we are anywhere off, that we are at all off the course that we have been on, which is trying to solve this diplomatically."

The United States and its regional ally Israel have never ruled out military action against Iran's nuclear facilities, and Tehran has warned of a ferocious response if it is attacked.

Israel on Friday announced that Defence Minister Ehud Barak would visit the United States next Monday and would meet Secretary of Defence Robert Gates, during his three-day trip. He would also hold talks with Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Israeli newspapers said Barak would, in particular, be discussing US military aid to the Jewish state and Iran's nuclear programme.

In Tehran, a senior Iranian cleric Ayatollah Mohammad Emami Kashani, in a Friday prayers sermon, said Israel and the United States would "regret" launching any attack against Tehran.

But Emami Kashani also shrugged off concerns about the perceived threatening nature of the Islamic republic's war exercise.

"Iran does not recognise Israel because it is an occupier... But Iran does not want to get involved in a war with it and does not want to shoot its missiles to Tel Aviv," the conservative cleric said.

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