Reuters: Iran insisted on Saturday an escalating dispute with the West over its nuclear activity could be resolved by negotiation as its security chief arrived in Germany for meetings with European Union leaders. By Mark John
MUNICH, Germany (Reuters) – Iran insisted on Saturday an escalating dispute with the West over its nuclear activity could be resolved by negotiation as its security chief arrived in Germany for meetings with European Union leaders.
But EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana played down chances of a breakthrough at a planned meeting on Sunday with Ali Larijani, saying at most it could rekindle efforts to settle the row caused by suspicions Iran is seeking atomic bombs.
A few European nations were weighing a compromise proposal under which Iran could run a few hundred nuclear centrifuges for research ends but without feeding uranium into them to generate fuel, while negotiating for trade incentives from Western powers to curb its nuclear program, European diplomats said.
But while Tehran would probably be open to such an idea, diplomats said the United States and Britain would demur over concern Iran would gain nuclear skills merely by vacuum-testing centrifuges, which can make fuel for power plants or bombs.
Still, the proposal was expected to be made by Swiss intermediaries to Larijani, Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, possibly on the sidelines of a security conference under way in Munich, the diplomats said on condition of anonymity.
In Tehran, Iranian officials said the U.N. nuclear watchdog has installed surveillance cameras at Iran’s underground nuclear plant where “industrial-scale” enrichment of uranium is planned. “We have nothing to hide,” one official told Reuters.
In Vienna, a diplomat familiar with International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) operations in Iran confirmed cameras were now in place inside the vast, bunker-like complex at Natanz after what diplomats called obstruction by Tehran last month.
Larijani told Reuters on the fringes of an international conference on security in the German city of Munich: “The Iranian nuclear dossier is resolvable by negotiation.
“We’ve had constructive talks with Mr. Solana in the past and we believe that had we continued, we could have come to a positive conclusion,” he said of diplomacy shelved amid Western frustration at Iran’s refusal to stop sensitive nuclear work.
INITIAL SANCTIONS COULD BE WIDENED
The United Nations imposed preliminary sanctions on Iran in December over its failure to prove to IAEA investigators that experimental efforts to enrich uranium are geared solely to generating electricity as it says.
The IAEA remains unable to ascertain that Tehran’s program is wholly peaceful after three years of inquiries.
“This is very, very sensitive technology, and for that reason we need a high degree of transparency, which Iran has failed to provide. If Iran does not do this, the alternative for Iran is to slip further into isolation,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the Munich security meeting.
The German Foreign Ministry said the Munich talks with Larijani had been arranged with an eye to a February 21 U.N. Security Council deadline for Iran to stop enriching uranium for nuclear fuel or risk broader financial sanctions.
Asked whether he believed some understanding could be reached before then, Larijani told reporters through an interpreter: “Still we have time. Talks are under way.”
U.N. officials have said they hope the planned meeting with Solana would allow some breathing space in the crisis but the top EU diplomat cautioned against over-optimism.
“I don’t think tomorrow will be the day, only the beginning, if anything,” Solana told Reuters at the conference. “There is no specific detail (in the discussions). It is only to tell him that the door remains open.”
Iran has promised an announcement of “significant” nuclear progress on Sunday when it crowns 10 days of celebrations marking the anniversary of its 1979 Islamic revolution.
Tehran faced criticism from Russia on Saturday as President Vladimir Putin told the Munich conference the Iranians had not answering outstanding IAEA questions on their nuclear program, which Tehran hid from U.N. inspectors for nearly two decades.
Washington is building up forces in the Gulf but says it is committed to diplomacy and has no intention of invading Iran.
Keeping up a war of words on Friday, Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told reporters in Buenos Aires that Iran was “digging a hole deeper and deeper for itself”.
He said an offer to Iran to negotiate was still on the table if Tehran suspended enrichment, but added: “Iran seems to be determined to further its isolation internationally.”
According to a report obtained by Reuters on Friday, the IAEA, the U.N. nuclear watchdog, has cut back almost half its technical aid projects in Iran to uphold the U.N. sanctions.
The current U.N. resolution bans transfers of sensitive nuclear materials and know-how to Iran as well as IAEA aid, traditionally given to bolster peaceful uses of nuclear energy, if it has any possible use in producing atomic fuel.
(Additional reporting by Edmund Blair in Tehran, Louis Charbonneau in Munich, Francois Murphy in Paris and Mark Heinrich in Vienna)