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EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana described his meeting Tuesday with Iran's new top negotiator on Teheran's nuclear program as "constructive" and said more talks will probably be held by the end of November.
It was the first meeting since the appointment of Saeed Jalili, Iran's new negotiator on the issue, following the resignation this weekend of Ali Larijani. Both Iranians took part in Tuesday's session in Rome and said Iran would continue negotiating with the EU representative.
"Negotiation and cooperation is our basic approach," said Jalili. "The course that we'll continue will be the same trend that he (Larijani) has pursued in this period of time."
The talks addressed Iran's work with the UN's nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is investigating Iran's past nuclear activities, as well as other nuclear issues, said Larijani.
"The meeting of today has been constructive," Solana told reporters. "Very likely we'll have the opportunity of meeting again before the end of the month of November."
The United States and some of its allies accuse Iran of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons and have demanded it halt uranium enrichment, a key step in the production of atomic weapons. Teheran denies the claim, saying its program is for peaceful purposes, including generating electricity.
The departure of the more moderate Larijani was seen as a victory for hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that could signify that the Islamic Republic has decided to take an even more defiant position in its standoff with the West over its nuclear activities. The Rome meeting was seen as a chance to test whether the Iran's position had stiffened.
But Larijani was dismissive of speculation about his resignation and alleged differences with Ahmadinejad, saying the replacement was just a matter of a generational change.
"The point is our country is a democracy, there is rotation and circulation of forces and powers," he said. "Jalili is a friend of mine, seven or eight years younger, energetic... He will continue doing the work. I will have my full support directed at him."
Larijani also expressed support for Ahmadinejad.
The Rome talks had been scheduled before Larijani's resignation was announced, and Solana's spokeswoman, Cristina Gallach, said that Larijani was "very engaged."
She said the meeting was aimed "at creating the right framework to start formal negotiations" on Iran's nuclear program, and cited uranium enrichment as one of the main issues that needed clarification.
The UN Security Council has imposed two sets of sanctions over Iran's refusal to suspend uranium enrichment.
The United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany, with EU support, agreed last month to delay until November any new UN resolution to toughen sanctions, giving Iran more time to cooperate with the IAEA investigation into past nuclear activities.
Italy is not a member of the negotiating group, but it is Iran's No. 1 trading partner in the EU and as of this year is on the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member.
The two Iranian officials and Solana will remain in Rome Wednesday for talks with Italian leaders, including Premier Romano Prodi.
Jalili, whose official title as secretary of the Supreme Security Council makes him the chief nuclear negotiator, is an Ahmadinejad loyalist, but little is known of his background.
The 42-year-old fought in Iran's war with Iraq in the 1980s as an officer in the Revolutionary Guards. With a Ph.D in political science, he has been a career diplomat since the late 1980s.
Named by Ahmadinejad as deputy foreign minister for European and American affairs, he has in the past served as a quiet envoy for the president, taking messages to European officials. He accompanied Ahmadinejad on a recent visit to New York. He has also frequently defended Iran's nuclear program to the foreign press.
Larijani was viewed as moderate compared with Ahmadinejad, and the two often clashed over how to negotiate with the world on the nuclear issue.
Larijani was seen as committed to a diplomatic solution over Iran's nuclear program, while Ahmadinejad was not seen as favoring talks with the West on the issue.
The president has said his country would not negotiate over its "nuclear rights" and that he believed the nuclear issue was over. However, he also said this month that the government was prepared to answer questions from the IAEA.