New York Times: In a surprise development, the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany have agreed to meet with Iran’s top nuclear negotiator to discuss what Iran is describing as new ideas to break the impasse over its nuclear program, European officials said Wednesday. New York Times
By ELAINE SCIOLINO
PARIS, March 1 In a surprise development, the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany have agreed to meet with Iran’s top nuclear negotiator to discuss what Iran is describing as new ideas to break the impasse over its nuclear program, European officials said Wednesday.
The meeting, which the officials said had been arranged at Iran’s request and would take place in Vienna on Friday, appears to be part of a strategy by Iran to win international support and avoid censure by the United Nations Security Council.
The officials insisted that the meeting would not be a reopening of negotiations under an agreement with the European trio in 2004 in which Iran voluntarily froze vital parts of its nuclear program in exchange for promises of economic and political incentives. That agreement fell apart after Iran restarted uranium enrichment activities at its vast Natanz site last month.
The official position of the three governments is that Iran must once again shut down the enrichment operations before negotiations can resume. “The Iranians want to speak to us to present new ideas,” one European official said. “We are not negotiating; we are only listening.”
But the mere fact that the Europeans have agreed to meet on such a high level with Iran after the country reopened the Natanz site last month in violation of the 2004 agreement is certain to be interpreted in Tehran as a victory for its side.
Officials in the European capitals debated whether a meeting would make their side look weak, with some arguing that the request should be rejected, said the officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity under normal diplomatic constraints.
It is unclear how the meeting on Friday, which was arranged only Wednesday evening, will dovetail with negotiations in Moscow between Iran and Russia over enriching Iranian uranium on Russian soil and under total Russian control.
After nearly five hours, those talks broke off Wednesday without any apparent progress. Ali Larijani, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, was quoted as saying that Iran continued to insist on its sovereign right to do its own uranium enrichment.
Iranian officials from President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on down have spoken with one voice in recent months in proclaiming that Iran will not abandon its enrichment of uranium, arguing that it is a right accorded the country as a signer of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Three officials who have been involved in the European talks with Iran said they did not expect Iran to suddenly shift course and announce a return to the freeze on production of enriched uranium, which can be used to produce electricity or to build nuclear weapons.
One senior official said that if Iran went to the meeting with no new concession, its lack of good will would be exposed to the world.
“We want to deprive the Iranians of the argument in front of the rest of the world that we are not open to hear what they have to say,” said the official, who regularly takes part in the meetings. “We want to say we did everything to give them a chance.”
Early in February the 35-country governing board of the International Atomic Energy Agency voted in favor of reporting Iran’s case to the Security Council, a move that reflected increasing suspicion around the world that Iran is determined to develop nuclear weapons. Next week the board will take up the issue again and may pave the way for Security Council consideration.