LONDON - An 18-month attempt to persuade Iran to mothball uranium enrichment collapsed yesterday after a senior European Union envoy failed to dent Tehran's resolve to expand the technology, despite the threat of new UN sanctions.
Saeed Jalili, Iran's senior nuclear negotiator, sought to put his talks with the EU's Javier Solana in a positive light, telling reporters the meeting was good, and saying the two men had agreed to meet again next month.
Solana had a different message.
"After five hours of meetings, I expected more, and therefore I am disappointed," he said. Unlike Jalili, he suggested no new meetings were planned, saying only the two men would talk on the telephone next month and would set up a personal encounter only if circumstances permit.
The meeting had been considered a last opportunity for Iran to give in to pressure from the five permanent UN Security Council nations and at least freeze - if not dismantle - its enrichment program before the end of the month, ahead of a new effort by the five nations to find common language on a third set of UN sanctions.
Those endeavors were to be the focus of a meeting of the five nations plus Germany at a high-level gathering in Paris today.
Jalili said Iran was not worried about the prospect of new penalties.
"What did they achieve?" he asked about the two sets of sanctions already in place "Nothing. In fact, we made the greatest technology headway and breakthroughs in that specific period of time."
He was alluding to advances in enrichment technology. Iran has set up and is running 3,000 enriching machines, or centrifuges, in a year. That's 10 times the number it had when the Security Council passed its first set of sanctions in December 2006.
While Iran maintains that it has a right to peaceful use of enrichment to generate power, fears that the activity could be misused to create the fissile core of nuclear warheads have resulted in two sets of sanctions the past 12 months.
US criticism of Iran goes beyond the nuclear issue, with Washington alluding that Tehran foments terrorism in the region, but Jalili was dismissive of the "various noise by the Americans," adding: "We don't pay much attention to them."
The council first imposed sanctions Dec. 23, ordering all countries to stop supplying Iran with materials and technology that could contribute to its nuclear and missile programs, and freeze assets of 10 key Iranian companies and 12 individuals related to the programs.