Iran's tough nuclear stance dims hope for talks


  • World
  • Monday, 12 Dec 2005

By Mark Heinrich

VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran's insistence on enriching uranium on its own soil may undermine the basis for new talks on defusing Tehran's nuclear standoff with the West, diplomats and analysts said on Monday. 

Iran said on Saturday that diplomacy would revive after a four-month freeze, but focus exclusively on "our right" to a full nuclear-fuel production cycle. The West fears that could yield an atomic bomb but Tehran says it would only power civilian reactors. 

Talks have been tentatively scheduled for Dec. 21, but Iranian leaders have dismissed in advance an EU-backed proposal for its uranium to be purified in Russia as "a failed idea". 

Diplomats within the EU3 -- Britain, France and Germany -- said there might be little to discuss given advance agenda-setting by the Islamic republic. 

"The fact the meeting should take place is a step forward. But what might come of it doesn't look promising based on what Iran has been saying. It doesn't look too hopeful," said one EU3 diplomat. 

"We have to come up with a line as to the basis for talking. It's hard to see the point now. If we agreed to Iran's agenda, we'd have to abandon our whole historical approach to its dossier," another EU3 envoy told Reuters. 

Since Tehran hid sensitive nuclear work from the U.N.'s non-proliferation watchdog agency for 18 years until 2003 and has publicly called for Israel's destruction, the West fears a nuclear-armed Iran would jeopardise international security. 

Iran says its nuclear project aims solely to generate power for an energy-hungry economy that exports most of its oil to earn much needed hard currency. 

Diplomacy between the EU3 and Iran on curbing Iran's nuclear aspirations collapsed in August when Iran resumed the first phase of the process, converting uranium ore. 

NON-COMPLIANCE 

In September the 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy (IAEA) declared Iran in non-compliance with safeguard clauses of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, which Tehran signed. 

The treaty guarantees member states the right to develop a full nuclear fuel cycle, but bans making weapons in the process. 

Washington and the EU3 sought a follow-up vote to send Iran to the U.N. Security Council for consideration of sanctions. 

But, stymied by resistance from Moscow and developing nations, the IAEA opted instead to give time for talks on the idea of Russia enriching Iranian uranium as a "joint venture". 

The next envisaged discussions would only be "talks about talks" -- an effort to relaunch previous negotiation anchored on the West's two-year-old offer to Iran give up enrichment efforts in exchange for political and economic incentives. 

Another Western diplomat in Vienna versed with Iran's case cast Iran's uncompromising signals as "the usual posturing that is part of the game" before a new round of negotiations. 

"We also get other messages from the Iranians, some mixed, though not in public, a desire to come to a generally acceptable outcome, which indicates room to manoeuvre. 

"On the other hand, if Iran really intends the talks to be only about Natanz, then I can't imagine a successful outcome," he added, referring to an underground plant that the West suspects harbours a clandestine nuclear-bomb project. 

William Peden, a Greenpeace nuclear analyst, said the EU seemed reluctant to confirm a date and venue for the talks because it already feared they would backfire. 

"The Iranians have backed themselves into a corner. They really can't backtrack without losing face. Neither can the EU. I expect the talks if held to fail and an emergency IAEA board meeting to be held in January," Peden said. 

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