Iran and the European Union have agreed to continue talks aimed at ending an impasse over Tehran's nuclear programme, according to Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana.
Larijani and Solana, after a meeting in Lisbon Saturday, agreed to hold further talks in three weeks time.
Iran has so far refused demands to halt its uranium enrichment programme, even after the UN Security Council imposed targeted sanctions in March. Iran could soon face a third UN resolution, which could include financial sanctions, if it does not comply.
The Iran-EU talks were necessary to "keep the lines of communication open", said Cristina Gallach, Solana's spokesperson in Lisbon. "Our intention is to continue exploring the possibility of initiating formal negotiations."
Larijani, in Vienna on Friday, said a meeting with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) head Mohamed ElBaradei was successful and said the two sides reached a "relatively good framework" for settling the issue.
He did not disclose any details of such a framework but just said that "the next step" could only start after clearing political aspects with Solana.
ElBaradei said he hoped that in the next few weeks the relevant sides would be able to draw a plan of action to be implemented within two months.
The Security Council's five permanent members plus Germany have insisted Tehran suspend enrichment before formal talks could begin. Western nations accuse Iran of seeking to build a nuclear weapon, while Tehran insists its programme is entirely for peaceful purposes.
Iran is seeking talks without any preconditions, and has promised to come up with a guarantee, proving that Iran's nuclear programmes are peaceful and not following military goals.
Observers believe that Larijani has promised the IAEA's ElBaradei Iran's renewed implementation of the IAEA Additional Protocol - allowing snap inspections of the country's nuclear sites - under the condition that the Iranian case is returned from the UN Security Council to the IAEA.
In that case, observers added, Iran might agree to reduce temporarily the level of its enrichment process to research purposes rather than upgrading it to industrial scale.
"As mentioned by ElBaradei, the West should stop living in the past and rather adopt itself to the fact that Iran has reached potential for enrichment anyway," Larijani said.