EU says ready for talks or confrontation with Iran

Sweden’s EU presidency said it was ready for talks or confrontation with Iran over its nuclear programme and qualified the appointment of a terror suspect as defense minister as a “provocation.”

“If they are ready to engage with us, we’re ready to cooperate with them,” Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, whose country holds the EU presidency, said as he arrived for informal talks with his EU counterparts in Stockholm.

“But if they decide to go for confrontation, then confrontation will happen,” he told reporters.

Swedish Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, speaking at a separate press conference, said Europe needed to remain united in its opposition to Iran’s nuclear programme.

“I think it’s very important for us to be gathered firmly in the EU’s reaction towards Iran, not accepting nuclear ambitions,” he said.

Germany’s European Affairs Minister Guenter Gloser said as he arrived for the informal talks: “We don’t want to impose more sanctions.”

“But there must not be a nuclear arms race in the Middle East,” he added.

Gloser also voiced concern at the continued arrest in Iran of “those using their right to the freedom of expression.”

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner questioned the usefulness of pursuing negotiations on the nuclear dossier with Tehran indefinitely.

“We have been talking with Iran for three years. Absolutely nothing has been achieved and we continue to speak…” he said.

“What is productive is that the Iranian people have shown a determination to move towards a different form of democracy,” the French minister added.

A defiant President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Thursday Iran is ready for more sanctions over its nuclear programme and will not bow to pressure in meeting any deadline set by world powers.

However Tehran has also said that it was offering six major powers – Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States – new proposals for the basis of fresh talks with them on its controversial nuclear drive.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said he had not received any such proposals, adding that he hoped to talk by phone to the Iranian side “in the coming hours”.

Iran insists its nuclear work is peaceful but Western countries allege that it wants atomic weapons. The UN Security Council has slapped three rounds of sanctions on the Islamic republic, and pressure is growing for more.

Meanwhile, Reinfeldt said Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appointment of terror suspect Ahmad Vahidi as defense minister was a provocation.

“We feel a situation where we often come back to provocations. Of course, I saw that this assignment was done as one of these examples,” Reinfeldt told reporters.

Vahidi is wanted by Interpol for a 1994 attack on a Jewish charity that killed 85 people.