VIENNA, Austria – The European Union's foreign policy chief and Iran's top nuclear negotiator on Wednesday abruptly postponed talks on easing tensions over the refusal of the Tehran regime to suspend uranium enrichment.
Cristina Gallach, spokeswoman for EU foreign policy official Javier Solana, did not say what prompted the decision to downgrade Thursday's meeting in Paris to the level of aides to Solana and Ali Larijani, Iran's senior nuclear negotiator.
But the decision of the two principals to stay away from what would have been their third meeting in a week suggested snags had developed from their direct contacts over the weekend.
The absence of Solana and Larijani was bound to dampen high expectations for the meeting. Their two sessions in Vienna had been described by both men as making progress toward solving the impasse over Tehran's defiance of a U.N. Security Council that it freeze enrichment.
Members of delegations familiar with the outcome of the talks Saturday and Sunday had said Iran suggested it was ready to consider suspending enrichment for up to two months.
But the officials also told The Associated Press that Iran continued to refuse pressure to stop enrichment before talks with a six-nation alliance meant to resolve the nuclear standoff, even though those nations conditioned starting negotiations on a freeze.
In Dakar Senegal, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said Thursday that his country's nuclear standoff with the West can be solved through dialogue, and called for unspecified "new conditions" in negotiations.
Ahmedinejad, on an hours-long stopover in Senegal en route to Cuba for a summit of the Nonaligned Movement, said the debate over Iranian nuclear enrichment could be solved peacefully.
"We're partisans of dialogue and negotiation. We believe that we can resolve our problems in a space of dialogue and justice -- together," he told reporters.
Oil-rich Iran says it needs uranium enrichment to produce fuel for nuclear reactors that would generate electricity. Enrichment can also create material for atomic bombs, however, and the United States and other nations suspect that is Tehran's real goal.
Gallach, the EU spokeswoman, said the results of the meeting Thursday would be reported to Iran's capital and EU headquarters before a decision on scheduling further talks between Solana and Larijani.
In a telephone call from the EU offices in Brussels, Belgium, Gallach said the two aides meeting Thursday -- EU negotiator Robert Cooper and Javad Vaeidi, deputy head of Iran's powerful National Security Council -- had also held talks in Vienna on Tuesday.
Different interpretations of what was achieved at the weekend talks were reflected earlier in the day.
In moderate language, Britain, France and Germany only alluded to the threat of Security Council sanctions if Iran continues to enrich uranium and called on the Tehran regime to negotiate the dispute with the international community.
The United States, in contrast, said it was time for the council "to back international diplomacy with sanctions."
The relatively soft tone of the European statement at a meeting of the 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency appeared focused on keeping confrontation low a day ahead of what then was still thought to be a Solana-Larijani meeting.
Diplomats accredited to the IAEA meeting, who agreed to discuss the matter only if granted anonymity, said that while France and Britain favored a tougher approach, Germany wanted a more toned-down text.
The need for bargaining among the Europeans -- and the sharper tone of the U.S. statement -- reflected uncertainties about Iranian intentions after Tehran suggested during the talks Sunday that it was ready to consider a short-term enrichment freeze.
"We continue to extend an open hand to Iran," the European statement said. It added that if Iran met the demand on enrichment, "we will ask to suspend action in the Security Council."
The three said the Solana-Larijani meetings had "helped clarify some misunderstandings."
But the chief U.S. delegate, Gregory L. Schulte, accused Iran of "a history of deception, lack of transparency, provocative behavior and disregard for its international obligations."
"The time has come for the Security Council to back international diplomacy with international sanctions," he said.
In Washington, State Department deputy spokesman Tom Casey said Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will take up the sanctions issue with other diplomats when the U.N. General Assembly meets next week in New York.
The five permanent members of the Security Council -- the U.S., Britain, France, Russia and China -- along with Germany have offered Iran economic and political rewards if it agrees to consider a long-term moratorium on enrichment and commits to an enrichment freeze before talks to discuss details of their package.
Reflecting differences over how to deal with Tehran, they gave up an attempt to jointly criticize Iran's defiance Tuesday, after China and Russia refused to endorse U.S.-backed tough language, diplomats said.
Those two countries have resisted U.S.-led efforts to move to sanctions quickly, despite the passing of the Security Council's Aug. 31 deadline for Iran to freeze work on developing enrichment technology. They favor continued negotiations.