AFP: European diplomats say the EU is “rock-solid” in its insistence that Iran cease uranium enrichment, ahead of crucial talks next week designed to win guarantees from Tehran that it will not make nuclear weapons. European Union negotiators Britain, France and Germany are studying an Iranian proposal that would allow some enrichment, and there have been hints of a crack in their unity over this issue.
VIENNA – European diplomats say the EU is “rock-solid” in its insistence that Iran cease uranium enrichment, ahead of crucial talks next week designed to win guarantees from Tehran that it will not make nuclear weapons.
European Union negotiators Britain, France and Germany are studying an Iranian proposal that would allow some enrichment, and there have been hints of a crack in their unity over this issue.
But the European trio is “rock-solid on cessation” by Iran of uranium enrichment, which makes fuel for nuclear reactors but what can also be the explosive core of atom bombs, one European diplomat told AFP on Thursday.
The trio is to meet with Iran starting Tuesday in Geneva in a nuclear issues working group, ahead of a meeting of senior foreign ministry officials from the two sides scheduled for April 29 in London, diplomats said.
Iran proposed at such a senior-level meeting in Paris in March a project to do low-scale enrichment in a pilot project, and the Europeans agreed to consider this.
The European diplomat said however that the EU position remains that “cessation means cessation.”
The EU wants so-called “objective guarantees” from Tehran that its nuclear program is a peaceful one.
Iran is trying to soften this demand, and some European diplomats told AFP that French President Jacques Chirac had said in February at a meeting in Paris with Iranian President Mohamad Khatami that France would agree to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) determining what these objective guarantees would be.
Other diplomats said this was not the case and that Chirac had only said that the Vienna-based UN nuclear watchdog would have a role to play.
The IAEA is a verification arm of the United Nations rather than a policy-making body.
A non-European diplomat said Iran felt it could get a better deal from the IAEA than it would get from the Europeans, who agree with the United States that Iran should not be allowed to develop the capacity to make nuclear weapons.
One European diplomat said that the idea of having the IAEA determine the objective guarantees “was launched at the Paris meeting as one possibility and was not accepted.”
French Foreign Ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said Thursday: “France is trying to obtain objective guarantees on Iran’s peaceful use of nuclear energy.” He refused to comment further.
Gary Samore, a non-proliferation expert at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), told AFP that the Europeans were considering the Iranian pilot plant proposal as a tactic to keep the talks going.
“I think the European strategy is to keep the talks going through Iranian elections” in June, after which a newly chosen Iranian president could more easily strike a deal, Samore said.
Samore said that the Iranians were trying to get the number of centrifuges “to a number that would be able to produce a weapon’s worth of highly enriched uranium in a year.” This number is approximately 2,000 centrifuges.
Centrifuges, placed in sequence, refine increasingly enriched uranium with each cycle.
Iran suspended uranium enrichment in November as a confidence-building measure to start the EU-Iran talks, which offer Iran trade, security and technology rewards if it abandons enrichment.
Iran however refuses to permanently abandon enrichment, saying its nuclear program is peaceful and claiming that it has the right to make nuclear fuel under the provisions of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, regardless of US charges that it is secretly developing atomic weapons.
Officials close to the talks said the European trio agreed to consider the Iranian proposal for a pilot facility since if experts “find a way to monitor this in an effective way, then why not?”
But the United States, which has softened its hardline stance against Iran and agreed to support the European initiative, would withdraw this support if Iran were to retain any enrichment capability, as this could open the door to a “breakout” ability to make nuclear weapons, US officials have said.
Washington is giving European efforts to rein in Iran’s nuclear program a few more months before considering tougher measures, US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Thursday.