But a government official based in a European capital said the two touched on possible new discussions of what constituted a suspension of enrichment and related activities.

 

Key issue

 

A new definition of an enrichment freeze acceptable to both sides was "the key issue", said the official, who was briefed on the outcome of the meeting.

 

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There was also mention of a "double time out" - a simultaneous freeze of such activities in exchange for a commitment not to impose new UN sanctions, said the official who demanded anonymity in exchange for discussing the confidential information with The Associated Press.

 

"We will have some talks tomorrow and in two weeks," Larijani said.

 

He described Wednesday's discussions as "pleasant".

 

For his part, Solana spoke of a "very constructive dinner", adding the talks "will continue tomorrow and in the coming weeks also".

  

'Irrational terms'

 

Earlier on Wednesday, arriving for the talks, Larijani said "irrational" Western pre-conditions - a reference to calls for a halt to all Iranian uranium enrichment activity - had thwarted diplomacy in the quest for a peaceful solution.

 

"That's why there are other new ideas. We are supposed to be introduced (to them). That's why we are here."

 

He did not elaborate.

 

The US and key allies suspect Iran of having a secret nuclear arms programme. Tehran says its enrichment work is only for electricity production and is vital for its economy.

 

Sensible proposals

 

Solana said in Ankara that the EU had always placed sensible proposals on the table.

 

"I hope this time we will be able to move on in the preparatory talks, which may lead, the sooner the better, to meaningful negotiations"

Javier Solana,the EU foreign policy chief

He said: "I hope this time we will be able to move on in the preparatory talks, which may lead, the sooner the better, to meaningful negotiations."

 

After a string of futile EU-Iran contacts stretching back almost a year, there have been diplomatic hints that the two sides could entertain a face-saving compromise based on a partial or temporary suspension of Iran's programme.

 

They surfaced again this week, prompting Washington to deny that Western powers were edging away from the Security Council resolution they engineered calling for a complete moratorium as a pre-condition for negotiations on a solution.

 

Trade incentives

 

A simultaneous freeze of enrichment activities in exchange for a commitment not to impose new sanctions - dubbed "double time out" - is the Security Council's formula to jump-start talks on trade incentives offered to Iran.

 

While Iran has offered to explore how to guarantee no military diversion of nuclear materials, it has ruled out halting its expanding enrichment effort sited in a vast bunker shielded by anti-aircraft guns against a feared US attack.

 

Tehran says the programme is irreversible and the West should now accept it as a member of the nuclear club.

 

A second set of UN sanctions were imposed on Iran last month.