Iran Nuclear NewsEU and Iran flatly disagree as they meet on...

EU and Iran flatly disagree as they meet on Iranian nuclear program

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AFP: Negotiators from Iran and the European Union met Wednesday in Geneva on Tehran’s nuclear program, with Iran flatly refusing to accede to the Europeans’ key demand that it abandon uranium enrichment, a fuel process which can also make atom bombs. AFP

GENEVA – Negotiators from Iran and the European Union met Wednesday in Geneva on Tehran’s nuclear program, with Iran flatly refusing to accede to the Europeans’ key demand that it abandon uranium enrichment, a fuel process which can also make atom bombs.

EU negotiators Britain, France and Germany want Iran to abandon enrichment as a guarantee against it developing nuclear weapons and offer in return trade concessions and other rewards.

But Iran said Tuesday it had already gone far enough in providing “objective guarantees” that its nuclear intentions are peaceful and warned that a refusal by the European Union to accept this would bring negotiations to a dead-end.

Ali Agha Mohammadi, a spokesman for Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, told state television in Tehran that “Iran has given its objective guarantees and the Europeans should give their guarantees” that Tehran can continue with fuel cycle work, which the Islamic Republic says is permitted by the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) if for peaceful purposes.

Iran insists its nuclear programme is purely meant to meet civilian electricity needs but the United States says Iran is trying to covertly develop nuclear weapons.

The European trio, which is seeking to defuse the Iranian crisis with diplomacy rather than confrontation, began this round of talks on Tuesday in Geneva, first discussing political and security benefits Iran could get.

The talks on the nuclear dossier, the key to agreement on any other matters, began Wednesday, a diplomat close to the negotiations told AFP.

A senior European diplomat also close to the talks said the negotiations “certainly are tough but the Iranians will never make a concession even at the 11th hour. They will wait for the very last minute or seconds.”

The diplomat said the Europeans had known going into the talks, which started in December after Iran had agreed to suspend uranium enrichment temporarily as a confidence-building measure, that they might fail.

“March is the first crunch time,” the diplomat said, noting that the Iranians have said they want to see progress some three months into the talks or they will resume enrichment.

But the diplomat said: “The more time that passes, the better it is for us since Iran is at least suspending its enrichment.”

Non-proliferation experts said Iran may yet cut a deal with the EU, although this may not take place before Iranian presidential elections in June.

“I do not think any progress has been made because Iran has not decided yet whether it is prepared to accept limits on its enrichment programme,” Gary Samore, from London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies, said while in Tehran last weekend for a nuclear technology conference.

“In the run-up to the presidential elections, I do not think any of the Iranian officials have any interest in showing any flexibility because they will be strongly criticised for giving away Iran’s rights,” Samore said.

The United States is now more open to helping the EU offer incentives to Iran, with Washington’s backing needed for concessions such as letting Tehran into the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Samore said it was “important that (US President George W.) Bush has crossed a psychological threshold and accepted the principle that any agreement with the EU is going to have to include active American support.”

The United States has not however abandoned its hardline stance and called on the international community Tuesday to consider possible actions against Iran if no progress is made in the talks with the Europeans.

State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said: “We may have to consider what other action to take if Iran does not fulfill its obligations.”

The United States has repeatedly called for Iran to be brought before the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions.

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