AFP: Iran on Tuesday ruled out discussing a key international demand over its nuclear programme in talks between its top atomic negotiator and the EU’s foreign policy chief set to be held this week. TEHRAN, Sept 26, 2006 (AFP) – Iran on Tuesday ruled out discussing a key international demand over its nuclear programme in talks between its top atomic negotiator and the EU’s foreign policy chief set to be held this week.
Diplomats told AFP the talks between Iran’s Ali Larijani and the EU’s Javier Solana — already the subject of numerous postponements — were due to take place on Wednesday although this still risked changing.
But the deputy head of Iran’s atomic energy organisation ruled out discussing a suspension of uranium enrichment activities in the talks, a move European and US leaders have said is crucial for resolving the standoff.
“Such issues will not be addressed in the next negotiations,” Atomic Energy Organization deputy head Mohammad Saeedi told the Iranian student news agency ISNA in Moscow.
His comments underline the obstacles that could yet block attempts to find an agreement despite positive noises from both sides that the momentum is heading in the right direction.
At their last talks in Vienna earlier this month, diplomats said that Iran offered to suspend uranium enrichment for two months although this has never been officially confirmed by the Islamic republic.
The Washington Times reported Tuesday that Iran was close to agreeing to a secret deal that would have it suspend uranium enrichment for 90 days in order for additional talks to take place with several European nations.
The suspension of its enrichment program would be kept secret while the additional negotiations take place, unidentified US officials told the daily, adding that Washington strongly opposed such a clandestine deal.
The crunch EU-Iran talks are seen as a last chance for Tehran to accept a package of economic and diplomatic incentives in exchange for it freezing enrichment work the West fears could be chanelled into producing nuclear arms.
“As Mr Larijani has said, the 5+1 proposal will be the basis for future talks with the 5+1 representative” Solana, Saeedi said while on a visit to Moscow.
The so-called 5+1 group comprises permanent UN Security Council members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany.
Uranium enrichment can be used to make the fuel for a nuclear power station but in highly enriched form can also be employed to make the explosive core of a nuclear bomb.
Iran insists that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful energy needs, vehemently rejecting US allegations that it is seeking to manufacture nuclear weapons.
Diplomats told AFP that Larijani and Solana were tentatively set to meet on Wednesday but warned that this date could change, as has happened in recent weeks for several EU-Iran meetings.
“They are set to meet tomorrow (Wednesday) in Brussels,” a senior European Union diplomat said.
But he added, in comments echoed by a second diplomat, this “can change. The deputies are meeting today (Tuesday)” and the two sides would “play it by ear after that”.
The US has threatened that Iran could face immediate international sanctions if it does not halt enrichment.
The negotiations were given a last chance after Washington, under pressure from Europe and China, backed down on its demand for immediate sanctions against Iran for failing to meet an August 31 UN deadline to freeze enrichment.
According to European diplomats, Western powers have set the start of October as a final deadline for Iran to give its definitive response to the 5+1 offer.
The moves came as Russia and Iran signed an agreement setting next September as the deadline for the long-delayed launch of the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power station, the Islamic republic’s first.
Iran has bitterly complained of Russian delays in the construction of the reactor, which Moscow is building in the teeth of US objections that it should not be involved in the project.
The plant will produce electricity from November next year, Russian officials said, while the nuclear fuel for the plant will be delivered no later than next March.