Iran Nuclear NewsUN watchdog debate to push Iran on nuclear offer

UN watchdog debate to push Iran on nuclear offer

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Reuters: Western powers will try to coax Iran in a debate at the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Thursday to accept a package of incentives to freeze its disputed nuclear fuel programme. By Mark Heinrich and Emma Thomasson

VIENNA, June 15 (Reuters) – Western powers will try to coax Iran in a debate at the U.N. nuclear watchdog on Thursday to accept a package of incentives to freeze its disputed nuclear fuel programme.

The five U.N. Security Council permanent members plus Germany offered Tehran a batch of sweeteners on June 6 to end a uranium-enrichment drive that could yield atomic bombs, or risk unspecified sanctions.

The International Atomic Energy Agency’s 35-nation governing board will consider two reports since April by IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei citing Iran’s continued obstruction of IAEA probes into its programme and refusal to halt enrichment.

In a speech opening the weeklong IAEA meeting in Vienna on Monday, ElBaradei said Iran was still failing to come clean with IAEA inquiries into the nature of its nuclear work.

“I would continue to urge Iran to provide the cooperation needed to resolve these issues,” he said.

The package offered by the big powers includes a possible resort to U.N. sanctions if Iran refuses to shelve enrichment, but plays this down and sets no deadlines.

The six powers have given Iran until a Group of 8 industrialised nations summit in mid-July to respond.

U.S. and European diplomats said their priority was to give Iran space to accept the incentives package by toning down rhetoric that could back it into a corner.

A European Union diplomat said an EU statement to be read to the board said “international concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme remain to be resolved and repeated requests by the board remain to be fulfilled.”

Iran’s foreign minister said he was both “optimistic and realistic” that there will be a deal to end its nuclear stand-off with the West but the country still wants to enrich uranium at home, Spanish daily El Pais reported.

Asked about a Western-backed Russian offer to enrich uranium for Tehran, which could prevent sensitive technology being mastered in Iran, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the Iranians would continue to examine the proposal.

“But now the question is precisely where and when the uranium will be enriched and we are talking about carrying out a peaceful activity in Iran and we continue to plan to enrich uranium in Iran,” El Pais quoted him as saying.

“CONSTRUCTIVE CONVERSATION”

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said on Wednesday he had had “a constructive conversation” by telephone with Iran’s top atomic negotiator Ali Larijani, but gave no details.

The nuclear issue was likely to loom large at a meeting of leaders of Central Asian countries in Shanghai, where Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is due to meet Chinese President Hu Jintao on Friday.

Russian President Vladimir Putin is also attending and appeared likely to also meet the often fiery Iranian leader.

Russia and China — fearing a worsening crisis with oil-producing Iran, a key trade partner for both — have blocked U.S. and European moves to secure a Security Council resolution that would threaten sanctions if Iran does not stop enrichment.

Iran says its atomic drive is meant to generate electricity and cites a sovereign right to civilian nuclear energy.

The West, noting Iran has the world’s second largest oil and gas reserves, suspects Tehran secretly wants to build nuclear bombs. It hid its enrichment research from the IAEA for almost 20 years and has also called for Israel’s destruction.

The incentives on offer include guaranteeing a supply of uranium enriched abroad for Iranian reactors. But Iran produced a small amount of low-enriched uranium for the first time in April and vowed not to be denied its own enrichment programme.

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