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Friday, September 15, 2006

EU's Solana cites progress in Iran nuclear talks

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana, in his most upbeat comments so far, said on Friday he was "really making progress" in talks with Iran on its nuclear program.

"I think I can say honestly that we're making progress. It doesn't mean that everything has been solved. That would be an exaggeration, but we are really making progress," he told a news conference after briefing EU foreign ministers on the talks.

Solana said he and Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, had agreed to postpone a meeting planned on Thursday because Larijani needed more time to build consensus in Tehran on the terms for launching negotiations with the major powers.

The United Nations has demanded that Iran suspend uranium enrichment, a process that can produce fuel for power stations or atomic weapons, as a condition for opening talks on a package of incentives including civil nuclear cooperation.

Tehran ignored an August 31 deadline to halt sensitive nuclear work but President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad struck a softer tone on Thursday, saying Iran was ready for "new conditions".

Solana said the definition of a suspension of enrichment was one of the outstanding issues, although not the only one.

Senior EU and Iranian officials were meeting every day to work on the remaining issues and would continue over the weekend, he said.

Solana, who had seven hours of talks with Larijani in Vienna last weekend, said he hoped to meet him again in the coming days and the next two weeks of diplomacy around the U.N. General Assembly in New York would be vital.

"We thought ... a little bit more time was needed in order to reach a consensus in his own country, amongst his own leadership ... in order to convey to me a possible positive answer to the question and to the ideas I put forward on Saturday," he said.

Solana said he was not worried that the United States, which has been pressing for U.N. sanctions over Iran's defiance on uranium enrichment, would lose patience.

"I don't think our American friends will be losing their patience," he said. "We are in the same boat. I am representing them. I am representing all the members of the Security Council. I am representing also the European Union, and I don't have a sense of losing patience."
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