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EU sets sanctions on Iran's atomic program, stays open to talks

The European Union began enforcing United Nations sanctions on Iran's nuclear program while promising to consider a new offer by the Tehran government for a negotiated settlement.

EU foreign-policy chief Javier Solana said today he had a „good meeting” yesterday with Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, after Iran announced a readiness to restart talks that collapsed last year. „We continue to maintain the door open for negotiations but Iran knows what we want them to do,” Solana told reporters in Brussels before the EU enacted sanctions including a freeze on some Iranian assets. Iran is sending mixed messages over the nuclear program, seeking to lure the EU back to the negotiating table while pressing ahead with uranium enrichment that the US warns is a step toward building a weapon.
President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told a rally in Tehran yesterday that Iran won't stop enrichment unilaterally, rejecting a key US and European condition for getting back to negotiations. Larijani struck a more conciliatory tone at a conference of defense officials in Munich, calling for „negotiation and dialogue” and saying that with goodwill on both sides „all issues will be finalized within months.”

Larijani yesterday „signaled that Iran itself has an interest in continuing the negotiating process,” said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the chairman of today's EU meeting. „We will have to see whether the proposals from Iran allow us to return to the negotiating table.” EU foreign ministers today formally adopted the sanctions passed by the UN Security Council in December, including a ban on Iran acquiring bomb-making materials and technology and a freeze on assets of individuals linked to the nuclear program.
European governments have refused to go further, bucking US calls for penalties on banks that provide credits for exports to Iran. Imposing sanctions without UN authorization might break EU law, officials say. „We cannot speak every time about sanctions,” Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said today. „There is movement in Iran. We have to keep the door open.” Iran, holder of the world's second-largest oil and natural-gas reserves, denies it is pursuing nuclear weapons and says it is processing uranium to fuel power stations. (Bloomberg)