ROME (Reuters) - Iranian negotiators and the EU hope for more talks on Iran’s nuclear program in coming weeks after a “constructive” meeting on Tuesday, despite a warning by Iran’s president that his country would not retreat “one iota”.
The first meeting with Western diplomats for Iran’s newly-appointed chief negotiator Saeed Jalili was overshadowed by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s rejection of calls to suspend uranium enrichment — the key demand of the U.N. Security Council.
Iran’s refusal to halt work that can be used to make fuel for power plants or, if it wants, material for warheads, has prompted two sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions. The West fears Iran’s nuclear program could be aimed at making bombs.
Jalili, accompanied by his predecessor Ali Larijani to the talks with European Union diplomatic chief Javier Solana, said Tehran supported dialogue with the West and saw the talks as an opportunity to forge better ties with Europe.
“The basic principle of the Islamic Republic of Iran is dialogue and cooperation — the course that our dear brother Dr. Larijani has traveled with in the past two years,” Jalili told a joint news conference with Larijani and Solana.
“The meeting of today has been constructive,” said Solana, adding that it was “very likely we will have the opportunity of meeting again before the end of the month of November”.
World powers have agreed to delay further penalties on Iran at least until November to see if Iran cooperates with U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors, and to await a report by Solana.
Solana’s mandate is to explore the scope for entering formal negotiations with Iran on international requests that it halt sensitive nuclear activities.
Tehran insists its nuclear program is aimed at producing electricity so it can preserve its oil and gas for export.
“We are in favor of talks but we will not negotiate with anyone about our right to nuclear technology,” Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by Iranian state television during a trip to Armenia. “Iran will not retreat one iota.”
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said Iran was breaking the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and sanctions could follow.
Israeli premier Ehud Olmert, speaking alongside Brown, said economic measures were “not sufficient”.
Ahead of the Rome talks, a U.S. official said Solana would make a “similar offer” to a proposal by Russia’s Vladimir Putin: a foreign-built civil nuclear system for electricity without access to “more sensitive” aspects of nuclear technology.
“We’ve offered diplomacy, they keep rejecting diplomacy, so I really think the ball is in their court,” U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Nicholas Burns said in New York.
U.S. officials fear Security Council backing for a third sanctions resolution might meet Russian opposition. But British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in Washington he was confident both Russia and China would support a third round of U.N. sanctions.
U.S. President George W. Bush has said a nuclear-armed Iran could lead to a third world war.
With speculation rife that Jalili’s appointment might signal a harder line in Tehran, Larijani said the change should be seen as normal rotation of posts.
“Our country is a democratic country,” he said, adding that Jalili was “seven or eight years” his junior and “energetic”.
Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Zahra Hosseinian in Tehran, Mark John in Brussels, Jeffrey Heller in London, Claudia Parsons in New York and Louis Charbonneau in Berlin