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The European Union's foreign policy chief and Iran's top nuclear negotiator said their talks Saturday on Teheran's nuclear program had been constructive and that they would meet again on Sunday.
The discussions between the EU's Javier Solana and Iran's Ali Larijani could decide whether Teheran is punished with sanctions over its rejection of the UN Security Council's demand that it freeze uranium enrichment.
The talks at the Austrian chancellor's office were meant to see if there is common ground for negotiations between six world powers and Iran over its nuclear defiance. While the five permanent Security Council members and Germany have demanded that Iran fully freeze enrichment as a condition for the talks, Teheran has steadfastly refused to do so.
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Three hours after the talks began, Solana and Larijana emerged and said they would continue Sunday.
Solana's spokeswoman Cristina Gallach said he found the talks "constructive and positive," and is "coming back to the table tomorrow." Larijani also said the talks were "positive."
The game posts appeared to have shifted slightly.
European officials who demanded anonymity for sharing confidential information with The Associated Press said at least some of the six nations were potentially ready to consider doing without an Iranian commitment to an enrichment freeze before talks - if Teheran committed to such a move sometime soon after the start of negotiations with them.
The officials declined to provide details. But such readiness would deal a blow to US-led attempts to hold fast to the demand that Iran freeze enrichment before any talks commence - or face the prospect of Security Council sanctions.
One of the officials said Solana discussed the issue with US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice before going into the meeting but declined to offer details.
On Friday, US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said Washington expected the Security Council to start discussing a draft on sanctions as early as next week unless Teheran does a last-minute turn and agrees to freeze enrichment, a possible pathway to nuclear arms.
But there might be opposition to that within the council. Recent statements from some government officials suggest that Russia, China and France might possibly be leaning toward dropping the demand that Iran stop enrichment before talks begin, in exchange for a promise to accept such a moratorium at some point in negotiations.
Speaking Saturday to reporters in Helsinki, Finland, outside of a meeting with EU leaders, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao counseled patience with Iran, saying resolving the nuclear dispute would take time. At the same time he urged Teheran "to make constructive steps" toward ending the standoff.
"Our purpose is that the nuclear issue of Iran will be settled peacefully," he said.