VIENNA -- Iran and the European Union inched toward a possible compromise yesterday that diplomats said would allow Tehran to run a scaled-down uranium enrichment program despite its potential for misuse in building atomic weapons.
The meeting ended without agreement, but the development was significant because the Europeans and the United States have for years opposed allowing Iran any kind of enrichment capability -- a stance that Russia, China, and other influential nations have also embraced.
Top European officials publicly described the talks in Vienna as failed because of Tehran's refusal to reimpose a freeze on enrichment. The board of the International Atomic Energy Agency is to revisit the issue Monday.
''Unfortunately we were not able to reach an agreement," French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy told reporters, saying the EU continued to demand ''full and complete suspension" of uranium enrichment and related activities that have fed fears Iran may be pursuing nuclear arms.
But diplomats familiar with the talks said that after months of deadlock, the two sides explored plans that essentially would allow Iran small-scale enrichment after reimposing its freeze for an undefined period to rebuild international trust.
Tehran has insisted on its right to conduct enrichment, saying it wants only to produce fuel for nuclear reactors that generate electricity. But enrichment also can create fissile material for warheads and a growing number of nations share US fears that is Iran's true goal.