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2006-09-13,9:40 PM

EU, Iran to hold new talks to end nuclear crisis

The European Union is to issue new calls to Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, after the six world powers trying to strike a nuclear deal with Tehran failed to agree on a joint statement at a UN atomic agency meeting here.

In another development on Wednesday, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana scheduled new talks with Tehran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani for Thursday in a bid to end the crisis, a spokeswoman said in Brussels.

Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States have offered Iran talks on trade and other benefits if Tehran will first suspend uranium enrichment, the process that makes nuclear reactor fuel but also atom bomb material.

The United States, which charges that Iran is hiding secret work to make nuclear weapons, is pushing for United Nations sanctions against Iran for failing to honor a UN resolution that set an August 31 deadline for Tehran to halt the strategic nuclear fuel work.

Finland, speaking for the 25 European Union states, was to urge Iran at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in Vienna to suspend enrichment not as "a voluntary confidence-building measure, but as an international obligation," according to a copy of a statement seen by AFP.

The EU statement also mentions the possibility of sanctions if Iran does not comply and "notes with concern" that Iran has failed to cooperate fully with an almost four-year-old IAEA investigation that has been unable to rule that the Iranian nuclear program is strictly peaceful.

The so-called EU-3 group of Britain, Germany and France, which have led negotiations with Iran since 2003, also agreed on a joint statement calling on Iran to suspend enrichment, diplomats told AFP Wednesday.

But it was not clear if the Iranian debate, expected to begin at the IAEA in the afternoon, would wrap up or extend into Thursday.

Meanwhile, Solana's spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said in Brussels: "We can confirm the meeting (with Larijani) for tomorrow, and we will confirm the venue this afternoon or tomorrow morning."

Solana is talking with the Iranians in the name of the six major powers -- the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany -- to convince Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment as a way to start talks on the benefits package.

The six failed to agree Tuesday on a joint statement at the IAEA meeting because "the United States was too tough," a Western diplomat told AFP.

Larijani had offered to consider a temporary halt in uranium enrichment in talks with Solana in Vienna at the weekend and this has raised hopes that a negotiated solution can be found, diplomats said.

But they noted that this was only an offer to consider a halt, not to implement it, and that there were conditions attached, such as the UN ceasing action against Iran, which made it unacceptable to the West.

The US State Department Tuesday denied reports of an Iranian offer, with a spokesman saying "they have not agreed to suspend uranium enrichment activities for any length of time."

US ambassador to the IAEA Gregory Schulte told AFP that the six world powers remained united.

The six all "want to see a full and verified suspension and that means that we would expect all the enrichment activities to be suspended."

Schulte said that if Iran does not suspend, "the Security Council has already made it clear its intention to move forward with sanctions."

A Western diplomat said Russia and China want to see how the Larijani-Solana talks play out.

"This is what Iran wants with its tactics, to divide the international community," the diplomat said.

Non-aligned countries sitting on the IAEA board were set to issue a statement backing Iran's right to peaceful use of uranium enrichment under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

Russia, like China a key trading ally of Iran, warned Tuesday against rushing to punish Tehran.

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