Reuters: Top EU powers met Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator on Friday for a last stab at dialogue before a U.N. atomic watchdog meeting that may bring Security Council steps against Tehran over fears it secretly seeks atom bombs. By Mark Heinrich
VIENNA (Reuters) – Top EU powers met Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator on Friday for a last stab at dialogue before a U.N. atomic watchdog meeting that may bring Security Council steps against Tehran over fears it secretly seeks atom bombs.
Thursday’s word of the talks in Vienna was a surprise, given Iran’s defiance of international calls to rein in nuclear work.
But Iran seems keen to brake momentum towards Security Council action, and the European Union appears keen to show it will listen, if not bend, to Tehran before weighing sanctions.
No breakthrough seems on the cards, given that Tehran is speeding up uranium enrichment work geared to fuelling nuclear power plants or, potentially, weapons while going slow in talks on a Russian compromise proposal to defuse the crisis.
“We will listen to what (top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani) has to say but we have no new proposals,” said a British Foreign Office spokesman.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, a senior British official standing in for Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, and Larijani arrived early on Friday morning for talks at the German ambassador’s residence in the leafy Hietzing district of Vienna.
EU diplomats said Larijani would again be told Iran must return to a complete suspension of enrichment-related activity including conversions of uranium ore, the first step in the process, to win fresh negotiations on trade incentives.
The International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation board of governors will convene on Monday to weigh a report by the IAEA chief saying essentially that Iran has ignored a February 4 call to re-suspend enrichment work to regain world trust.
The Vienna-based board reported Iran to the Council but on the condition the top world body on war and peace issues would not flex its muscle at least until after next week’s session.
In past weeks, Iranian leaders have been roaming the world trying to mine non-Western opposition to punishing Tehran without hard evidence of covert bomb-making and inviting Western stakes in its atomic programme to help ensure it is peaceful.
Iran says it wants only nuclear-generated electricity. But it hid atomic work from the IAEA for 18 years, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has publicly called for Israel to be destroyed and the IAEA says Tehran continues to stonewall its investigations.
“We agreed to this meeting only reluctantly. But we decided to show the EU3 format is still on the table since Iran had pronounced it dead,” said an EU3 diplomat in Vienna.
Larijani said Iran sought another hearing with the EU as “we believe our programmes are clear and defensible” but warned Russia’s proposal would die if the Security Council intervened.
Moscow has offered to purify uranium for Iran in Russia to prevent diversions of nuclear materials to arms production.
“Negotiations with Russia were constructive and effective … (but) the Russian proposal needs to become more mature,” Larijani told IRNA news agency, apparently objecting to Moscow’s insistence Iran re-suspend enrichment work as part of the deal.
If the Security Council does crack down on Iran after the IAEA session, the Islamic Republic would feel discriminated against and see little point remaining within the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Tehran’s IAEA ambassador said.
“One thing has to be clear. If … the Security Council gets involved the situation will definitely deteriorate, a lose-lose game,” Ali Asghar Soltanieh told Reuters in a phone interview.
“This is not a warning but a reality. Many in Iran have national pride in nuclear activities. If we are referred to the Council, they would be very disappointed,” Soltanieh said.
He said many Iranians wondered why some countries — such as Israel and India — had refused to join the NPT, developed nuclear arsenals without IAEA safeguards and enjoyed normal relations with the West, while Iran faced isolation.
IAEA director-general Mohamed ElBaradei, who is also due to meet the foreign ministers, has welcomed the EU3-Iran meeting.
ElBaradei is concerned that involving the Security Council may drive Iran into a corner and lead to deadlock, given that veto-wielding Russia and China — both with massive investments in the Islamic Republic — reject sanctions.