Reuters: The head of Russia’s atomic energy agency said on Tuesday he hoped for a “major breakthrough” on the Iranian nuclear row when major powers meet in London this week but a U.S. official said that more talks may be needed to reach agreement. By Carol Giacomo, Diplomatic Correspondent
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The head of Russia’s atomic energy agency said on Tuesday he hoped for a “major breakthrough” on the Iranian nuclear row when major powers meet in London this week but a U.S. official said that more talks may be needed to reach agreement.
Senior officials from the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — nuclear-armed permanent members of the U.N. Security Council — plus Germany are to meet to discuss a package of incentives and threats aimed at defusing a crisis over Iran’s disputed nuclear program.
The United States and its allies say Iran is developing nuclear weapons under cover of a peaceful energy program. Tehran denies the charge.
“I hope that this proposal would be a major breakthrough in this issue,” Sergei Kiryenko, who heads the atomic agency, told a news conference after talks with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and other senior U.S. officials.
But he gave few details and it was unclear whether serious differences had been resolved between Washington and Moscow over U.S. demands that Iran face sanctions, resisted by Russia, if it continues to defy the international community.
Kiryenko did not speak to that point, but indicated that Russia and the United States had made progress toward a nuclear cooperation agreement that could greatly expand lucrative nuclear commerce between the two nuclear powers.
U.S. officials have said such a deal could lure Russia away from nuclear and other cooperation with Iran.
Commenting on the European Union package, the U.S. official, who spoke anonymously because sensitive diplomacy was in progress, said that after preparatory meetings on Tuesday, “there was no determination on the package” that would be presented to Tehran.
“I wouldn’t expect full closure at the meeting” on Wednesday, he said, adding there likely would be “more talks next week.”
The European Union package is likely to include an offer of a light-water reactor and an assured supply of foreign fuel for civilian atomic plants so Iran would not have to enrich uranium itself. Enriched uranium can be used as a nuclear fuel, but is also a key component of atomic weapons.
IRAN SEEKING DIRECT TALKS–REPORT
The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Iran was explicitly requesting direct talks on its nuclear program.
According to the report, senior Iranian officials made requests through the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, Indonesia, Kuwait and U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan, the newspaper said citing U.S. officials, Iranian analysts and foreign diplomats.
The U.S. official said that Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, chief U.S. negotiator on the Iran issue, met on Tuesday with his Japanese and Canadian counterparts in London to discuss intensifying pressures on Tehran, including freezing Iranian assets and blocking access to hard currency.
Up to now, Japan and Canada have not been among the main participants in the Iran-related negotiations but western diplomats see Japan, in particular, as a key ally if a financial squeeze on Iran’s leaders is to be successful.
U.S. pressure last year prompted the Bank of Macau to curtail business with North Korea and administration officials see this as a very successful precedent.
Citing U.S. anti-terrorism and banking laws, they have quietly exerted similar pressure on financial institutions and firms in Europe and elsewhere in an effort to limit Iran’s access.
As a result, four of Europe’s biggest banks have already started curbing activities in Iran, the New York Times reported on Monday.
Such decisions “have already had an impact on the situation in Iran,” one senior European diplomat told Reuters. “It’s the sanctions before the sanctions.”