Iran signals refusal of nuclear freeze: EU diplomat

By Paul Taylor
Wednesday, October 4, 2006; 7:20 AM

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Iran has indicated to European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana it will not freeze its most sensitive nuclear work and major powers will consult later this week on sanctions, a European diplomat said on Wednesday.

Solana has been trying to coax Iran into halting uranium enrichment, which Tehran says will only generate electricity but which the West suspects is aimed at developing an atomic bomb, to avert possible U.N. sanctions.

"It's clear that's the situation. They cannot accept suspension," a European diplomat familiar with Solana's talks with chief Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani said.

The diplomat said foreign ministers of the major powers were likely to meet in London on Friday or Saturday to assess the outcome after four months of talks and decide on seeking gradual sanctions, targeted on Iran's nuclear program.

In Tehran, a senior Iranian nuclear official had no immediate comment.

Solana spoke by telephone to Larijani on Monday and told journalists afterwards that the conversation was constructive but had not broken the impasse.

The diplomat said no further contact was planned with Larijani before ministers of the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany meet Solana, although it was not ruled out and lower-level contacts were continuing.

Russia, a major trade partner of Iran and so far strongly opposed to sanctions, had not confirmed whether it would attend the meeting, the diplomat added.

The diplomat said Solana would tell the European Parliament foreign affairs committee on Wednesday that while Iran had moved on some aspects of the conditions for negotiations, it had not moved on "the most critical ones."

"The more we hear about the meetings (between Solana and Larijani), the more we learn that nothing has happened," said another European diplomat, also asking not to be identified in exchange for discussing confidential information.

"For Iran, it seems another undertaking just to gain time."

Solana delivered a package of economic, political and technological incentives to Iran in June, conditional on it suspending uranium enrichment and related activities.

Tehran responded with an ambiguous counter-proposal in August and ignored an August 31 deadline set by the U.N. Security Council to halt enrichment or face possible sanctions.

Foreign ministers of the major powers met at the United Nations General Assembly on September 19 and set an unannounced deadline of the end of this week for Solana to get a clear answer from Tehran.

In another effort to head off a resort to sanctions, the deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization on Tuesday suggested France could invest in Iran's nuclear industry, enabling it to supervise Tehran's program.

Similar past proposals for foreign investment came to nothing. The West opposes formulas that would keep enrichment on Iranian soil and allow Tehran to master technology that could be devoted to power generation or bombmaking.

The second European diplomat called Iran's proposal for a French-led foreign stake "one of the usual Iranian sideshows."