Top EU Official Urges US-Iran Talks

The top EU foreign policy official urged the United States to engage Iran in direct negotiations about its nuclear program and other issues to try to stabilize the Middle East. Javier Solana, the EU’s foreign and security affairs chief, told an annual trans-Atlantic security conference he came away from two days of talks in Ankara with Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani this week believing that Iran was ready for direct talks with Washington, AP reported.

“The United States must engage” with Iran, said Solana, who is to meet with US Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice in Washington on Monday.

He said Washington’s hostility toward Tehran only served to reinforce “a situation in which Iran is considered as a country that cannot be organized into some sort of dialogue.”

The Bush administration has long seen Iran as a destabilizing factor in the Middle East and a direct threat to Israel.

Solana urged Rice and other officials to ignore the overheated language coming out of Tehran, most of it directed at Israel, and explore dialogue with the Iranian leadership to recognize its importance to regional stability.

On Thursday, Solana completed two days of talks with Ali Larijani, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator. Solana was acting on behalf of the international community, which is demanding that Iran suspend uranium enrichment in exchange for a package of economic and political inducements, including help in developing a peaceful nuclear energy program.

Both Solana and Larijani spoke of some progress toward “a united view” on how to break a deadlock over Tehran’s defiance of a UN Security Council demand to freeze uranium enrichment.

Speaking at the same session of the Brussels Forum, a security conference of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, Daniel Fried, an assistant US secretary of state, said Washington had tried to reach out to Tehran to no avail.

“So we are stuck,” Fried said at the post-dinner session attended by several hundred politicians, diplomats and security experts from both sides of the Atlantic.

Solana urged Washington to recognize that Iran cannot be ignored as a key player in stabilizing the turbulent Middle East.

“It is very difficult to try to find (peace in the Middle East) that is meaningful and balanced” without the help of the government in Tehran.

Solana and Larijani held only preliminary discussions in Ankara meant to establish if there is enough common ground for further talks between the two men that could lead to the resumption of formal nuclear negotiations between the six powers and Iran.

Iran’s defiance of a UN Security Council demands on enrichment has led to two sets of sanctions against the country.

Iran argues the sanctions are illegal, noting it has the right to enrich uranium to generate nuclear power under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT). Iranian officials say nuclear power is the only purpose of their program, dismissing suspicions that they ultimately want weapons-grade uranium for the fissile core of nuclear warheads.

Negotiations broke down last year when the Iranian government refused to suspend enrichment.

Solana is to meet with Rice next week, when he attends an EU-US summit in Washington.

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