Reuters: European Union powers are willing to revive nuclear talks with Iran to discuss a Russian proposal aimed at defusing an impasse over what the West believes is an Iranian atomic bomb programme, diplomats said on Tuesday.
By Louis Charbonneau and Mark Heinrich
VIENNA (Reuters) – European Union powers are willing to revive nuclear talks with Iran to discuss a Russian proposal aimed at defusing an impasse over what the West believes is an Iranian atomic bomb programme, diplomats said on Tuesday.
Under Russian President Vladimir Putin’s proposal, Iran would be allowed to continue converting uranium ore but would ship it to Russia for enrichment, a system which, in theory, would prevent Iran from producing weapons-grade uranium.
Iran says its nuclear programme is aimed purely at electricity generation.
“We are considering a meeting in December in Vienna. The Iranians would have to say they want to meet and talk about the Russian proposal,” a diplomat from the so-called EU3 — France, Britain and Germany — said on condition of anonymity.
He said the EU3 were prepared to make a major concession in the interest of resuming dialogue with Iran — they would be willing to meet even if Tehran did not reinstate a suspension of uranium processing activities at its Isfahan plant.
The trio had made this a condition of restarting talks, but Tehran has so far ruled out halting work at Isfahan.
“We will probably come back to this issue after the IAEA board meeting,” the diplomat said, referring to Thursday’s meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors.
Other EU3 officials confirmed a meeting was under consideration, but said many aspects — the timing, the seniority of officials attending, the Iranian position — were unclear and warned that it might never take place.
The EU3 broke off talks with Iran in August after the Islamic republic’s new hardline President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad ended the suspension of uranium processing activities, the cornerstone of a November 2004 deal called the “Paris Agreement”.
On Monday, EU and U.S. officials said they would not push the IAEA’s 35-nation board to refer Iran this week to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions, as the Western powers had previously threatened to do.
The officials cited a desire to allow Iran more time to think about the Russian plan.
Last week, U.S. President George W. Bush said he backed Putin’s initiative to end the standoff in the EU3’s drive to persuade Iran to abandon the most sensitive parts of the nuclear fuel cycle.
The proposal would allow Iran to continue converting uranium ore into gas at Isfahan if the most critical stage of nuclear fuel production — uranium enrichment — was transferred to Russia as part of a joint venture. In exchange, Iran would get economic and political benefits.
Iran has not formally rejected the Russian idea but has stressed repeatedly that it aims to enrich uranium domestically, calling this a sovereign right it would never renounce.
(Additional reporting by Francois Murphy)