Gulf & Middle East
As Tehran warns against 'deceptive' plans EU toughens stand
Apr 23, 2007 - 7:20:18 PM

Luxembourg/Tehran, April 23 - In a two-track bid to defuse the nuclear standoff with Iran, European Union foreign ministers Monday agreed on tougher sanctions against Tehran but also backed talks this week between the bloc's chief diplomat Javier Solana and Iranian negotiator Ali Larijani.

However, Tehran Monday warned against any 'new deceptive plan' by the European Union in the new round of nuclear talks.

EU diplomats said the 27-nation bloc had agreed to add new names to the list of Iranian citizens denied permission to travel to the EU because of their link to the nuclear programme.

The EU has already agreed to ban sales of nuclear technology to Iran and freeze the assets of some key people as part of a package of United Nations sanctions adopted earlier this year.

Despite the tough move, however, EU foreign and security policy chief Javier Solana said Monday he planned to meet Larijani on April 25 in Ankara, the first face-to-face meeting between the two men in several months.

Solana told reporters at a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg he hoped to convince Iran to start formal negotiations on defusing its long-standing nuclear standoff with the West.

'We will see if we can move towards negotiations,' said Solana.

The EU chief diplomat has been mandated by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the US, Russia, China, Britain, and France - as well as Germany to try and convince Iran to suspend all uranium enrichment activities in return for access to Western civilian nuclear technology.

The EU and the US have accused Iran of building nuclear weapons. Tehran fiercely denies the charge, saying its nuclear programme is for civilian use only.

EU diplomats said while the long-awaited Solana-Larijani talks in Ankara did not mean the start of formal negotiations, there were hopes the meeting could 'create the conditions' for such discussions.

'There is agreement that this problem has to be solved through negotiations,' said an EU diplomat.

Solana and Larijani have talked frequently on the telephone in recent months although their last meeting dates back to February when they met a security conference in Munich.

'It will be very important to maintain engagements in a pragmatic way -... and also maintain and reach out to Iranian society,' said EU external relations commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner.

EU diplomats said the bloc was determined to pursue its 'dual-track' carrot and stick approach to dealing with Iran despite Tehran's repeated warnings it would not accept a 'deceptive plan.'

A government spokesman in Tehran, however, ruled any Iranian moves to halt uranium enrichment, saying 'suspension should be excluded from the agenda.'

'It should first be clarified whether in the upcoming talks they - have a new deceptive plan or not,' foreign ministry spokesman Mohammad-Ali Hosseini said.

'Iran's nuclear rights should once and for all be acknowledged by all relevant countries,' he said.

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