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Negotiators meet in Berlin to discuss Iran's nuclear program

BERLIN -- Senior Iranian and European Union negotiators held five hours of talks yesterday on Tehran's disputed nuclear program amid suggestions the United States might be willing to defer seeking sanctions for a few weeks if a diplomatic resolution was in sight.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and chief Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani went into their meeting at a Foreign Ministry facility by the side of Lake Tegel on the outskirts of Berlin without making statements to reporters.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was not participating in the talks, said he was optimistic progress could be made.

``I have the expectation that the talks today will be successful," Steinmeier said yesterday . ``I think that today we will not get any final news, but hopefully in the course of tomorrow."

Solana would report back to the six countries trying to persuade Iran to give up its program to enrich uranium, he said, ``and then it will be decided together if there are conditions for a return to the negotiating table."

Germany has joined with the permanent U N Security Council members -- the United States, China, Russia, France, and Britain -- in pressing Iran to give up what the United States says is a nuclear weapons program. Iran says its program is peaceful.

Enriched uranium can be used for power plants or for weapons, depending on the level of enrichment.

Solana and Larijani are holding the latest round of talks over a package of incentives the six countries are offering Tehran for suspending its uranium enrichment program and returning to full-scale negotiations.

Iran missed an Aug. 31 Security Council deadline over the issue. The six are considering seeking sanctions in the UN Security Council if Tehran does not comply.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice telephoned Solana yesterday ``and we do fully support his efforts" to hold talks with Larijani, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.

McCormack said Washington may be willing to defer seeking sanctions for a few weeks if there was a chance for a diplomatic solution.

He said that Solana saw an opportunity in his meeting with Larijani ``if we give the Iranians a little time and space."

``Our response was, `absolutely, if it's a matter of a few days, a few weeks here to see if there is a possibility of keeping open a negotiated diplomatic solution,' " McCormack said in Washington. ``We want to give that every opportunity to succeed."

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