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No breakthrough in Iran-EU nuclear talks

MADRID (Reuters) - Iran’s top negotiator and the EU foreign policy chief failed to break a deadlock over Tehran’s nuclear programme on Thursday despite a threat of fresh international sanctions.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani (R) and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana hold a joint news conference after their private meeting at Madrid's Quinta del Pardo palace May 31, 2007. REUTERS/Andrea Comas(SPAIN)

Iran’s Ali Larijani and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana agreed to meet again in two weeks, but gave no indication of progress in talks over Iran’s decision to pursue uranium enrichment in disregard of a U.N. deadline to stop.

Earlier in the day, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said it was time for Iran to shelve its disputed nuclear programme if it wanted to avoid further isolation, alluding to the threat of a third round of U.N. Security Council sanctions.

“It’s time for Iran to change its tactics. The international community is united on what Iran should do and this is to suspend (enrichment of uranium for nuclear fuel) and demonstrate it is not seeking a nuclear weapon,” Rice said in Vienna.

Larijani told reporters the 4 1/2 hours of talks with Solana in Madrid were “serious and transparent”.

But he reiterated that Iran would not suspend a nuclear programme it says is for generating electricity but which the West suspects is a facade for making atom bombs.

“We have abandoned the issue (of suspension),” he said.

Solana, asked whether he and Larijani addressed a suspension, said: “As you know we still think that the issue of enrichment is of great importance for us.

“There was no fundamental breakthrough (today), but I can say we made advances on some important issues ... We discussed all the issues that had to be discussed. We put some new ideas which we will continue to discuss,” he said.

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“We are seeking a new impetus for negotiations,” he added without elaborating except to cite a “good positive atmosphere”.

That description resembled the one both gave to talks they had in Turkey a month ago that also made no tangible headway.

Six world powers, who have asked Solana to hold talks with Iran, insist Tehran stop enriching uranium as a precondition for formal negotiations on trade and other incentives offered a year ago in return for giving up sensitive nuclear work.

“DOUBLE SUSPENSION”

Foreign ministers of the Group of Eight top industrialised nations said on Wednesday Iran faced further sanctions after it failed not only to stop enriching by a U.N. deadline that expired last week but widened the programme.

A G8 summit due on June 6 to 8 is expected to address the Iranian nuclear issue further.

Enrichment is a process of refining uranium for power plants or, if taken to a very high degree, atomic bombs.

A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) last week said Iran was accelerating a campaign to install 3,000 enrichment centrifuges by mid-summer, laying a basis for “industrial-scale” fuel production.

EU diplomats had said Solana would again test Larijani’s stance on the Security Council’s “double suspension” offer -- suspend enrichment in return for a suspension of sanctions and full negotiations, even though Iran has repeatedly spurned it.

“There doesn’t seem to be a lot of point to these talks, particularly on top of this very negative IAEA report,” an EU diplomat said before the meeting. “But the point is to keep the negotiating track open”.

There have been suggestions the West might settle for a partial enrichment halt to nudge Iran into negotiations.

Washington and key EU allies have publicly denied this, saying Iran would still be able to perfect enrichment technology with a limited centrifuge operation.

Solana and Larijani planned to consult again in Madrid on Friday, but not necessarily face to face, a Solana aide said.

Additional reporting by Sue Pleming and Karin Strohecker in Vienna, Louis Charbonneau in Berlin, Jason Webb in Madrid

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