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Iran's former top nuclear negotiator maintains his authority in talks with the EU in Rome

Iran's former top nuclear negotiator, replaced this weekend in a surprise announcement in Tehran, nevertheless maintained his authority and leadership in talks with the EU in Rome, the European Union foreign policy chief was quoted as saying Thursday.

The EU's Javier Solana met with Ali Larijani, the former negotiator, and his successor, Saeed Jalili, for a session in Rome Tuesday. The three met again briefly on Wednesday.

"Here I found the same Larijani I had met before, and he had the role of chief negotiator," Solana was quoted as saying in an interview with Rome daily La Repubblica.

"I have to say that the meeting was chiefly with Larijani, who clearly was the group leader and maintained his authority and the leadership in the negotiations," added Solana.

During a news conference, too, Larijani took the lead in fielding questions from reporters.

Solana also acknowledged that the meeting failed to produce any concrete results, but insisted that holding the talks was in itself positive. He also praised a commitment to meet again by the end of November.

"It certainly was not a meeting where decisions were made. They thought it appropriate to call it 'constructive,' which is a polite way to say it hasn't been destructive," Solana told La Repubblica.

The replacement of Larijani as top nuclear negotiator raised questions about whether Tehran had decided to take an even more defiant position in the nuclear standoff with the West.

The United States and some of its allies accuse Iran of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons and have demanded it halt uranium enrichment, a key step in the production of atomic weapons. Tehran denies the claim, and its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment has led the Security Council to impose two sets of sanctions against Iran.

Jalili, a 42-year-old diplomat, is seen as a loyalist of hard-line President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Larijani, while a conservative, is considered more moderate within the president's hard-line camp. He remains the representative of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's supreme leader, at the Supreme National Security Council.

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