“No clear answer” has been given by Iran, to a Western-backed proposal aiming at suspending its controversial nuclear activities, says Javier Solana (photo), EU foreign policy chief.
The two sides would resume talks in two weeks’ time, he added, when he hoped for a decision from Tehran.
He was speaking after talks in Geneva, which gathered Saeed Jalili, top Iranian nuclear negotiator, representatives from the EU and UN Security Council. A senior US official, William Burns, also joined the talks, which is a shift of policy, as the US and Iran have had no diplomatic relations since 1979, the Iranian revolution and the taking of hostages at the US embassy in Tehran.
A so-called “freeze-for-freeze” formula is what the diplomats had hoped that Iran would respond to. Under it, a freeze or Iran’s programme at its current levels would be matched by a Western pledge not to strengthen sanctions on Tehran.
“It was a constructive meeting, but still we didn’t get the answer to our questions”, Mr Solana told reporters.
‘Number of possibilities’
“We hope very much we get the answer and we hope it will be done in a couple of weeks”, he said.
He added that he had agreed with Mr Jalili to speak again in two weeks, either by telephone or personally.
Iran is interested in the offer but it is unclear whether there are divisions in the leadership or the Iranians are playing for time, said the BBC’s John Leyne in Tehran.
Mr Jalili said that he urged Western powers not to turn away from negotiations, and had put forward many positive ideas.
“This package we have proposed contains a number of possibilities. In a nutshell, it is a new opportunity which should not be lost.”
Yet, after a member of the Iranian delegation said that there was “no chance” of a freeze on the uranium enrichment programme, doubt was cast over the value of the talks.
‘Axis of evil’
Iran is defying UN Security Council demands to halt uranium enrichment, and keeps on saying that its nuclear programme is designed to meet its energy needs.
Besides the US and Iranian envoys, the talks in Geneva’s city hall are being attended by representatives from Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia.
William Burns (photo, from cnn.net), US Under-Secretary of State, did not comment after the talks.
Even though last year the two countries met at ambassadorial level in order to discuss security in Iraq, formal contact between Iran and the US has been extremely limited.
In 2002, president George W. Bush named Iran as one of the countries that formed the “axis of evil”. Since then, his administration had insisted that no face-to-face talks would be held unless Iran suspended the enrichment of uranium, saying it could be used to produce nuclear weapons.
Mr Burns’ presence will be a “one-time event”, said US officials, adding that he is in Geneva to listen, not to negotiate.
President Bush is taking a more pragmatic approach, with just six months left of his presidency, analysts say.
On Friday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice seemed to sum up the new conciliatory mood in a speech. She repeted that Iran was “a difficult and dangerous state”, before adding : “We have been very clear that any country can change course.”
The US may even consider opening a diplomatic mission in Tehran, have suggested recent reports. It would be the first such link since the US hostage crisis in 1979.
The talks come after weeks of rising tensions in the region, like the Iranians test-fired missiles last week, and a series of threats and counter-threats between Iran and Israel, which has been watched nervously in the West.