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Iran, Europeans fail to reach an nuclear deal

VIENNA, Austria — Iran's supreme leader threatened to pull out of negotiations if European countries press their demand for total suspension of uranium enrichment, as a new round of talks ended Wednesday without an agreement to avert the possible threat of U.N. sanctions.

Britain, France and Germany are trying to work out a deal that would avoid a standoff with Iran over its nuclear program, which the United States says aims to develop nuclear weapons.

The Europeans are offering Iran incentives — a trade deal and peaceful nuclear technology, including a light-water research reactor — in return for a halt in enrichment, which can produce fuel for both nuclear energy and atomic weapons.

They have warned that most European states will back Washington's call to refer Iran's nuclear file to the U.N. Security Council for possible economic sanctions if Tehran doesn't give up all uranium enrichment activities before the Nov. 25 meeting of the U.N. nuclear watchdog.

In talks Wednesday, Iran's delegates insisted on the right to enrich uranium. And supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say in all issues in Iran, ruled out any long-term suspension of the program.

"A long-term suspension of enrichment is a discussion without logic," Khamenei said, according to state-run television in Tehran.

"If there is any form of threat in the talks, it will show a lack of logic on the part of (Iran's) partners in the negotiations," he said. "In that case, the great Iranian nation and the Islamic Republic of Iran will reconsider the very basis of negotiations and cooperation."

Sirus Naseri, a member of the Iranian delegation at the talks in Vienna, said "total suspension will not be accepted under any circumstances."

Diplomats have called the EU package a "last chance" offer ahead of a key Nov. 25 meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency. The meeting could result in Tehran's defiance being reported to the U.N. Security Council, which has the authority to impose punishing sanctions.

Still, Iranian negotiators held out the possibility of a compromise with the Europeans. The Iranians and British officials said another round of talks would be held soon.

Hossein Mousavian, Iran's chief delegate to the IAEA, told Iran's state-run radio Wednesday that Iran has not ruled out a compromise with the Europeans before the IAEA meeting.

"We haven't closed the door for an understanding before the November meeting, but will reach compromise if there is a balanced package of agreements. Obligations and confidence-building measures have to be bilateral," said Mousavian, adding that the agreement had to be clear and contain a timetable.

"There has to be no discrimination against Iran," he said.

In London, a spokesman for the British Foreign Office said "some progress was made toward identifying the elements of a common approach toward the issues, and the two sides agreed to meet again shortly."

Iran insists its nuclear activities are peaceful and geared solely toward generating electricity. The United States, pointing to Iran's vast oil reserves, contends it is running a covert nuclear weapons program.

Heightening the U.S. concerns, Iran has resumed testing, assembling and making centrifuges used to enrich uranium.

The European envoys, who first presented their offer to the Iranians in Vienna last week, made clear they would not budge on the enrichment issue, but Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Hasan Rowhani, has suggested there was some flexibility in the talks.

Rowhani told state television earlier this week his government might be willing to consider a temporary suspension of enrichment, but he cautioned: "No other country can stop us exploring technology which is the legal right of Iran."

Rowhani said Iran has run its program "under the influence of agreements and safeguards of the IAEA" and has signed a so-called additional protocol to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which allows unfettered IAEA inspections of Iranian facilities.