BRUSSELS, Belgium – European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana insisted Friday that he was making progress in talks to persuade Iran to bring its nuclear program into line with international demands.
"We are really making progress," Solana told reporters. "Never before have we had the level of engagement, and a level of discussion of issues which are difficult as we are having now."
He said he hoped for a new meeting with Iran's top negotiator Ali Larijani in the coming days. Solana said lower level talks had been going on daily since Sunday, when he and Larijani last met in Vienna, Austria.
"The atmosphere is good," Solana said. "We don't want to lose the momentum that was created in Vienna."
Officials in delegations familiar with the outcome of Sunday's talks said this week that Larijani had suggested his country was ready to consider an enrichment freeze for up to two months.
Still, they said the Iranian suggestion fell short of a demands issued by the U.N. Security Council's five permanent members and Germany that such a freeze be imposed before any talks begin on further de-escalation of the nuclear standoff.
Solana suggested a solution could be found by starting negotiations starting at the same time as Iran announces a suspension.
"It can be done simultaneously, there are many ways we can do it," Solana said. "But we will not negotiate formally with activity on enrichment, that is something that is understandable by everybody, that is understood also by the Iranians."
Solana did not confirm that the Iranians were talking about a freeze, but French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei confirmed in Paris that Iran "has accepted to talk about the question of suspension."
Iran insists it has a right to developing its enrichment program as a way to generate electricity, but there is increased concern it wants to make weapons-grade uranium for nuclear warheads. Its defiance of a Security Council demand that it stop enrichment activities has prompted U.S. calls for a quick move to economic and political sanctions against Tehran.
The Europeans are hoping the talks by Solana's team can bring a negotiated end to the nuclear standoff with Iran, which the United States want to punish with U.N. sanctions unless it falls quickly into line.
Solana is endeavoring to persuade Iran to accept an offer of 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.
That package was approved by the permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — Russia, China, the United States, France and Britain, which along with Germany, have been leading efforts to end the standoff.
However the six have not been able to agree on what to do if Iran does not fall into line, with China and Russia refusing to follow the tough line sought by Washington.