AFP: Major world powers are to meet in Brussels on Friday to discuss Iran's rejection of a nuclear fuel deal, a top EU official said, after US President Barack Obama warned of "consequences" for Tehran. By Lorne Cook
BRUSSELS (AFP) — Major world powers are to meet in Brussels on Friday to discuss Iran's rejection of a nuclear fuel deal, a top EU official said, after US President Barack Obama warned of "consequences" for Tehran.
Iran, meanwhile, hit out at the United States amid mixed signals from world powers and an apparent new deadlock in efforts to allay Western concerns over Tehran's nuclear programme.
"Tomorrow (Friday) in Brussels there will be a meeting of the three plus three at the level of political directors, hosted by the European Union," said EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana's spokeswoman.
UN Security Council permanent members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States, plus Germany are leading talks aimed at persuading Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions.
On Wednesday, Iran rejected a proposal for it to send more than 70 percent of its stocks of low-enriched uranium abroad under a deal brokered by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN nuclear watchdog.
The LEU would have been converted into nuclear fuel and returned to Iran to power a research reactor in Tehran.
The deal aimed to defuse a long-running standoff with the West over Tehran's atomic programme.
As Russia played down the prospects of new sanctions but France ruled out further talks on technical aspects of the deal, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad went on the offensive against Washington.
"If our nation sees they have changed their behaviour, dropped their arrogant attitude … and return Iranian nation's rights and assets, the nation will accept that," he said in a televised speech from the northern city of Tabriz.
Obama has pursued a carrot-and-stick policy, offering diplomatic engagement and at the same time threatening tougher sanctions if Iran does not come clean over its atomic programme.
Washington froze Iranian government assets in 1979 after Islamist militants stormed the US embassy in Tehran and took its staff hostage, which led to the scrapping of diplomatic relations in 1980.
Iran's uranium enrichment work is at the centre of fears about its atomic ambition as the process which makes nuclear fuel can also be used to make atomic bombs.
Iran has refused to halt enrichment despite three sets of UN sanctions and it drew outrage in the West by disclosing in September a new enrichment plant, Fordo, which is being built inside a mountain near the holy city of Qom.
Iran's IAEA envoy Ali Asghar Soltanieh said UN experts would visit the Fordo plant on Thursday for the second time in less than a month.
And Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Iran is ready for more talks with world powers and prepared to consider a simultaneous exchange of uranium for fuel for the Tehran reactor.
The IAEA, however, has already that such an exchange is unacceptable to the Western powers.
Obama stepped up pressure on Iran after it dismissed the fuel deal which emerged from talks in Vienna among Iran and France, Russia and the United States.
He warned that Washington has "begun discussions with its international partners about the importance of having consequences."
"Our expectations are that over the next several weeks we will be developing a package of potential steps that we could take that will indicate our seriousness to Iran."
World powers have warned Iran it could face tough new sanctions.
However, Russian foreign ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said there was currently "no discussion" about more sanctions. "We believe that we have every chance of implementing the Geneva agreements in full."
French foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said dialogue could continue with Tehran on its contentious nuclear programme but ruled out talks on "technical issues."
"Iran has clearly rejected the proposed deal," he said.
Under the IAEA-brokered proposals, Iran would send out 1,200 kilograms (more than 2,640 pounds), which would then be further enriched by Russia and converted into fuel by France before being supplied to Tehran.
Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu is to meet with Ahmadinejad in Tabriz on Friday, a Turkish diplomat in Ankara told AFP.
Turkey has offered to store Iran's uranium as part of a possible solution to the stand-off and is still awaiting an answer from Tehran.