(photo credit: Simon Dawson/AP)
Talks over 18 months appear to have failed to persuade Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, European officials said Thursday, ahead of report expected to confirm Teheran's nuclear defiance that will add to the likelihood of further UN sanctions.
Two officials, both in senior positions, spoke on the eve of a London meeting between EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili in the British capital.
Those talks will be followed by a strategy session Saturday in Paris by top representatives of the five permanent UN Security Council nations plus Germany, the six countries at the forefront of efforts to dissuade Iran from developing its enrichment program.
While the Paris meeting will formally wait for a report from Solana on the outcome of his talks with Jalili, the officials told The Associated Press that there were few illusions that Teheran would change its mind. They asked for anonymity in exchange for discussing confidential issues.
Comments Thursday by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband indicated the low expectations the Western powers - the United States, Britain, France and Germany - had from the London talks.
He told reporters that "work is already under way and will continue" on the language of a Security Council resolution that would impose a third set of sanctions on Teheran.
"There's a lot of discussion going on about the content of a resolution," he said - an allusion to differences among the Western council members and Russia and China, who have watered down the two previous sanctions resolution and appear skeptical about a third. Still, he said, "the marching orders ... are set out."
The council first imposed sanctions on Dec. 23, ordering all countries to stop supplying Iran with materials and technology that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programs, and freeze assets of 10 key Iranian companies and 12 individuals related to the programs.
In March, the council imposed moderately tougher sanctions including banning Iranian arms exports and freezing the assets of 28 people and groups involved in Iran's nuclear and missile programs.
Both times, Iran responded by expanding enrichment. Teheran insists its nuclear program is peaceful and designed to generate electricity for civilian use. Many fear it masks a plan to develop weapons.
Iranian officials have repeatedly insisted that enrichment was not up for debate throughout much of the EU-Iran contacts that began in June 2006, with the six nations offering technological and political incentive if Iran mothballed the program.
Teheran was at pains to reinforce that message as late as Tuesday, with Iranian government spokesman Gholam-Hossein Elham telling reporters that suspension of enrichment is "not on the agenda" of the London talks.
Reflecting Western exasperation, Kim Howells, Britain's Middle East minister, said Wednesday those who believed the West must offer Iran "endless sweets and chocolates to get them to" meet their international obligations were mistaken and suggested current UN sanctions were too weak.
Speaking from separate European capitals, both of the officials said that Iran had offered to bring "new ideas" to the table in London on Friday. But they said that nothing - short of a commitment to freeze their enrichment program - would be considered acceptable.
"It would be a surprise if there was anything worth listening to" from the Iranian side, said one of the officials, who is well-briefed on the talks.
Only once in the 10 months of EU-Iran contacts did Teheran indicate it was ready to suspend enrichment - in September 2006. That confidential offer was made - and subsequently withdrawn - by Ali Larijani, who resigned last month and was replaced by Jalili.
While Larijani was considered a relative moderate, Jalili is a hardliner loyal to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad who has shown no sign of compromise in the nuclear dispute. One of the officials said that the rapport established at the talks had disappeared with the replacement of Larijani, additionally clouding chances of success.
Solana's planned report will follow one by International Atomic Energy Agency head Mohamed ElBaradei. That summary earlier this month confirmed Iran was cooperating more than before with an IAEA probe of past suspicious nuclear activities. But it noted that Iran had expanded its capacities 10-fold over a year and was now running 3,000 centrifuges - enough to produce enough enriched uranium for a nuclear weapon within 18 months, should Teheran choose that route.
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