Reuters: Iran is ratcheting up the pressure on EU giants France, Britain and Germany to accept its plan to join the world’s nuclear club, European diplomats said on Wednesday. Sharing Washington’s suspicions that Iran is trying to develop the capability to produce atomic weapons, the European Union has demanded that Iran give up its nuclear fuel programme in exchange for economic and political incentives.
By Louis Charbonneau
VIENNA – Iran is ratcheting up the pressure on EU giants France, Britain and Germany to accept its plan to join the world’s nuclear club, European diplomats said on Wednesday.
Sharing Washington’s suspicions that Iran is trying to develop the capability to produce atomic weapons, the European Union has demanded that Iran give up its nuclear fuel programme in exchange for economic and political incentives.
Iran, which insists its nuclear ambitions are limited to the peaceful generation of electricity, says uranium enrichment is a sovereign right it will never renounce. Four months of talks have not changed Tehran’s position.
Iran has taken the offensive in the talks, diplomats said.
“We are on the defensive now,” a diplomat from one of the EU trio countries said about the next round of talks in London on Friday. “We are no longer talking about cessation (of uranium enrichment) but exclusively about the Iranian proposal.”
He said there would be no breakthroughs at Friday’s meeting though it might result in a flood of angry rhetoric from Iran, which would not get any definite response from the Europeans.
Tehran has proposed that it build up its uranium enrichment programme in stages, beginning with a small scale enrichment plant at Natanz in central Iran outfitted with 3,000 centrifuges — machines that purify uranium for use as fuel for power plants or weapons by spinning at supersonic speeds.
The project would be closely monitored by the U.N. nuclear watchdog and would be expanded until the underground facility became a commercial-scale enrichment plant with around 54,000 centrifugues, diplomats familiar with the Iranian proposal said.
The Europeans generally dislike the idea but have agreed to consider it, even though it is unacceptable to Washington, diplomats close to the talks said. This is mainly to win time and keep Iran at the negotiating table, they added.
But one diplomat said he worried this tactic might backfire, since Iran could justifiably accuse the EU of playing games.
A plant with 3,000 centrifuges could theoretically produce enough high-enriched uranium fuel for one and a half warheads per year, nuclear experts say. However, Iran says it only wants to produce low-grade enriched uranium fuel for power plants.
IRAN THREATENS TO BREAK OFF TALKS
Iran has repeatedly threatened to break off negotiations with the EU if it does not get a firm answer about its proposal. A senior Iranian official renewed this threat on Wednesday.
“At this meeting (on Friday), Iran expects the European side’s clear answer about the idea,” Hossein Mousavian, a senior nuclear negotiator, told Reuters in Tehran.
He said Iran, which has frozen its enrichment programme for the duration of the talks, would keep talking if the Europeans say Iran’s proposal is an acceptable basis for a future deal.
“If not, Iran cannot continue its suspension … based on the negotiations without any tangible progress,”Mousavian said.
The Europeans expect Tehran to provoke a crisis after Friday’s meeting because they will not give the Iranians the firm answer they will demand, several EU diplomats told Reuters.
But they said the talks were unlikely to break down and Iran resume enrichment. The Iranians know the EU would then support Washington’s call for a referral to the U.N. Security Council, which could lead to economic sanctions, the diplomats said.
“I don’t think we want anything other than for the talks to continue and I don’t think Iran wants anything else either,” an EU-3 diplomat said.
European diplomats also said they would try to quietly weather any “controlled crisis” the Iranians provoked, which would be more intended to show a tough face to a domestic audience ahead of Iran’s June 17 presidential elections. (Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Tehran, Madeline Chambers in London, Paul Taylor in Brussels and Jon Boyle in Paris)