VIENNA, Austria – Iran's deputy nuclear negotiator on Tuesday abruptly canceled a meeting with his EU counterpart, saying he was ill, European officials said.
Javad Vaidi of Iran announced the cancellation on the eve of planned talks between him and Robert Cooper, deputy to Javier Solana, the EU's foreign policy chief.
Vaidi and Cooper were seeking to fix a date and venue for a meeting in the Austrian capital between Solana and chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, with the Europeans pushing for such talks to take place by the weekend, said the officials, who demanded anonymity because their information was confidential.
Solana has been the EU's point man in engaging Iran in attempts to persuade Tehran to heed U.N. Security Council demands to suspend uranium enrichment, a technology that can be used to create uranium fuel for power plants and the fissile material of nuclear warheads. Iran says it seeks only to generate power. Fears that Tehran could opt to develop nuclear weapons once it has perfected its program have already led to two sets of Security Council sanctions.
But for more than two years, the Iranians have spurned offers carried by Solana of material and technical expertise and cooperation on civil atomic power projects in return for freezing enrichment.
Solana was to submit a report to the Security Council on his efforts. That, together with findings by the International Atomic Energy Agency on Tehran's nuclear activities that were forwarded to the council last week, will serve as the basis of deliberations among the five permanent council members on whether to impose a third set of sanctions to penalize the Iranian Republic for its nuclear defiance.
Solana had been seeking an early meeting with Jalili in part because of pressure from the United States, France and Britain, which are seeking new sanctions. Russia and China, the two other permanent council members, are reluctant to impose new penalties, saying there is still room for negotiations before such a move.
Solana earlier this month warned Tehran that time to cooperate was running out in the face of the Western push for new U.N. sanctions. But before Vaidi's cancellation was announced, European officials had said that the Iranians appeared to be dragging their feet on any new meeting between Solana and Jalili.
One of the officials told The Associated Press that it was possible that Vaidi was suffering from a "diplomatic sickness" — prompted by the need to further delay a decision on when such a meeting should occur — but it seemed more likely that he was truly sick. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press.
A true test could occur later this week at a meeting of the IAEA's 35-nation board, that will focus on Iran and which Vaidi was scheduled to attend. His absence at such an important venue would indicate that he really is ill.
That meeting, opening Thursday, will review the IAEA report submitted to the Security Council last week and its findings that — while Tehran appeared to be cooperating more than ever with an agency probe of past suspicious activities — it was expanding enrichment instead of heeding Council demands to freeze it.