With time ticking away to next month's crucial meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency the European Union is looking to Russia, China and domestic Iranian opinion to persuade Tehran to revive talks over its controversial nuclear programme.
Iran has given no indication to the EU3, Britain, France and Germany it will accept last month's IAEA resolution that found Tehran in “non-compliance” with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation treaty, a first step towards referral to the UN security council and possible sanctions.
Iran has dismissed the resolution's call to give up converting raw uranium into fuel, a demand the EU has made a condition for restarting talks.
The Tehran ambassadors of the EU3 have not even met Ali Larijani, Iran's top security official, since the resolution was passed.
“At the moment we have no interlocutor,” said a senior European diplomat. “We are talking through [press] interviews.”
Tony Blair, the British prime minister, on Tuesday told a London news conference “the position of Europe and America ..[is] ‘the same’ we will continue the pressure”. Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, will later this week visit Europe to co-ordinate policy.
Meanwhile, Iran's diplomacy has been muted. Since taking office in August, new president Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad has appointed officials who show little appetite for compromise.
“These people are more like interrogators than negotiators,” said the European diplomat, referring to the background of many new officials in the Revolutionary Guards.
The Europeans have identified Mr Larijani as the man with whom they need to talk, but are discouraged by his performance.
On Sunday, Mr Larijani gave mixed signals in a speech to staff and students at Tehran's Sharif technical university.
On one hand, he said for the first time that Iran might accept some of the conditions of the IAEA resolution.
But he also complained of “fascism” and of Iran being treated “worse than North Korea”, which claims to have nuclear weapons.
Europe still wants to avoid referring Iran to the security council, said the diplomat: “Our hope is that as the deadline approaches, more moderate elements in Tehran will have more sway.”
Both former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani and reformist figures have begun publicly to question whether confrontation is in Iran's best interests.
A second EU hope is that Russia and China, who abstained on the IAEA resolution and who have vetoes in the security council, can influence Iran.
“We certainly need outside help,” said the diplomat. “Russia's red line is the same as ours, they do not want Iran to have the full nuclear fuel cycle.”
A third hope is that Iran might give some positive signs to the IAEA delegation that arrived in Tehran on Monday, apparently to complete research for a report to November's meeting.
But there are increasing signs of the Iranian leadership preparing public opinion for referral to the security council.
Mohammad Saeedi, deputy head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation (AEO), on Tuesday claimed “credible” opinion polls showed 80 percent of Iranians supported the country having the full nuclear cycle.
Mr Saaedi said the AEO was working on details of the proposal made by Mr Ahmadi-Nejad to the UN last month for “international involvement” in Iran's nuclear programme.
The European diplomat said this idea was “old hat”.
“This could come later once confidence is established, but it's not the way forward now. Iran's new team is still at the stage of showing how their predecessors got it all wrong.
“But what we need are clear signals they want to comply with the IAEA resolution. It's not up to us to initiate, Iran has to move.”
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