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Tehran’s new team stresses need for continuing dialogue

October 24, 2007

By Guy Dinmore in Rome and Najmeh Bozorgmehr in Tehran

Published: October 24 2007

The new Iranian team holding nuclear talks with the international community yesterday stressed the need to continue negotiating and agreed to hold a further round of talks next month.

“The basic principle of the Islamic republic is dialogue and co-operation,” Saeed -Jalili, the new delegation leader, told a joint news conference in Rome after meeting Javier Solana, European Union foreign policy chief.

Both sides called the talks “constructive” but their statements did not indicate substantial progress over the issue of the United Nations Security Council’s demand that Iran suspend uranium enrichment for international sanctions to be lifted.

Standing next to Mr Jalili was his predecessor, Ali Larijani, who denied that his unexpected resignation at the weekend as chief negotiator and secretary of Iran’s supreme national security council reflected policy divisions in Iran’s leadership.

Mr Jalili’s reputation as a close ally of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, Iran’s president, had raised concerns in the west that the president was consolidating his hardline position in a leadership power struggle.

Just hours before the Rome meeting, Mr Ahmadi-Nejad declared that Tehran had no need for negotiations over its nuclear programme. “We believe if you talk about your [inalienable] rights, you will definitely lose part of them,” he said.

Mr Ahmadi-Nejad was reported to have cut short a visit to Armenia to return to Tehran, reinforcing a sense of crisis over the issue.

Just as they shared a podium, Mr Larijani, who dominated the press conference, and Mr Jalili, who spoke little, sought to present an image of shared authority. Mr Larijani declared his support for Mr Jalili and the Iranian president but made clear that he was acting as the representative of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, the supreme leader, who held the ultimate authority.

Mr Larijani, who has developed a reputation as a pragmatist, was “much more engaged” in the talks with Mr Solana than Mr Jalili, a European official said.

Their comments indicated that Mr Larijani might also take part in a last round of talks next month before Mohamed ElBaradei, head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, presents his report on Iran’s progress in disclosing the full extent of its past nuclear programme. The Security Council members and Germany will also hear from Mr Solana before deciding on their next step.

Iran did not want “trouble or adventures”, Mr Larijani said. “We want to arrive at a fair framework of understanding.”

Mr Larijani’s departure provoked a chorus of criticism inside Iran. Ali-Akbar Velayati, senior foreign policy adviser to the supreme leader, said: “It would have been definitely better if this had not happened in the existing negative international atmosphere.”

A former senior official said Mr Ahmadi-Nejad and Mr Larijani had argued over the merit of holding talks with Mr Solana. “Ahmadi-Nejad believes the nuclear file is closed and there is no point to talk to Solana, while it is not clear who he is representing and what he is trying to do,” he said.

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