New York Times: Representatives of three European countries and Iran met Wednesday for the first time since negotiations over Iran’s nuclear development program were suspended four months ago in bitterness. After five hours of closed-door meetings in Vienna, the delegates said the two sides had agreed to hold further talks in January.
New York Times
By RICHARD BERNSTEIN
BERLIN, Dec. 21 – Representatives of three European countries and Iran met Wednesday for the first time since negotiations over Iran’s nuclear development program were suspended four months ago in bitterness. After five hours of closed-door meetings in Vienna, the delegates said the two sides had agreed to hold further talks in January.
The purpose of what European diplomats were calling “talks about talks” was to see if enough common ground existed for the stalled negotiations to resume next year.
“Both sides set out their positions in an open and frank manner,” the leader of the French delegation, Stanislav de Laboulaye, told reporters, using a diplomatic code that usually signifies sharp differences.
Mr. Laboulaye said the delegates would return to their home countries for consultations “with the aim of agreeing on a framework for negotiations.” But it seemed virtually certain that the two sides had failed to agree on resuming substantive talks.
In Washington the State Department spokesman, Sean McCormack, said, “What needs to happen is the Iranians need to get serious about negotiating in good faith.”
The negotiations between Iran and Britain, France and Germany began two years ago and were an effort, supported by the United States, to persuade Iran to forgo an independent nuclear development program, in exchange for a package of economic incentives.
But the talks have foundered on Iran’s insistence on developing a nuclear program on its own soil that would include the technology that would enable it to enrich uranium to produce material that could be used either to generate electricity or to produce a bomb.
Iran has maintained all along that its purpose is limited to electrical power, but the United States and Europe, faced with numerous instances in which Iran concealed aspects of its nuclear program, say they believe its aim is a nuclear weapon.
The atmosphere, already soured by Iran’s resumption of uranium conversion at a research plant in Isfahan, has been worsened in recent weeks by statements made by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in which he has called the Holocaust a myth and said Israel should be “wiped off the map.”
The Europeans and Americans have wanted to have the International Atomic Energy Agency refer the matter to the United Nations Security Council for possible economic sanctions, but they have agreed to hold off because of opposition from Russia and China.
At a meeting of the agency last month, the European countries, with the support of the United States, agreed to hold open what was called a “window” for the stalled talks to be resumed, and the meetings on Wednesday were a consequence of that decision.
Specifically, the Europeans have wanted to see if Iran might agree to discussions based on a new Russian proposal that Iran’s nuclear stockpile be enriched in Russia and the nuclear fuel sent back to Iran, a process that would presumably prevent Iran from acquiring an independent enrichment capacity.
But Iran has insisted that it intends to carry out uranium enrichment itself.
The European hope is that if Iran continues to refuse to move toward an agreement, both Russia and China might drop their objections to Security Council sanctions.
Steven R. Weisman contributed reporting from Washington for this article.