Europeans call off next round of nuclear talks with Tehran

Posted in Iran | 24-Aug-05 | Author: Katrin Bennhold| Source: International Herald Tribune

The French foreign ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei.
PARIS A two-year European initiative to discourage Iran from producing its own nuclear fuel appeared to have been put on ice Tuesday, when negotiators called off the next round of talks with Tehran.

The talks, which had been planned for Aug. 31, were supposed to focus on a European proposal that was submitted to the Iranian government this month.

But France, which along with Germany and Britain has spearheaded the talks with Tehran, said Iran's decision to resume nuclear fuel activities that could constitute a first step in producing atomic weapons made a continuation of the negotiations impossible.

"We can't continue with formal negotiations as if nothing happened," said Jean-Baptiste Mattei, chief spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry. "The suspension of their fuel activities was the basis for our negotiations. By resuming some of those activities the Iranians have effectively suspended the agreement these talks were based on."

The most recent round of talks between the European Union and Iran started last November, when Tehran agreed to suspend all activities related to the nuclear fuel cycle for the duration of the negotiations.

Three weeks ago, the Europeans submitted a proposal to Iran, offering a range of political and economic incentives, as well as guaranteed access to nuclear fuel to help the country build a civilian nuclear sector without having to produce its own fuel.

But Iran dismissed the proposal as unacceptable and restarted work at its uranium conversion plant in Isfahan, ending a nine-month freeze and ruling out any future suspension.

With negotiations officially suspended, the focus now is on the International Atomic Energy Agency, the UN's nuclear watchdog. During an emergency meeting of the agency's governing board on Aug. 11, a unanimous resolution urged Iran "to re-establish full suspension of all enrichment-related activities." A Sept. 3 deadline was set for the agency's director general, Mohamed ElBaradei, to report on Iran's nuclear activities.

"The next step is the IAEA report on Sept. 3, and then the board of governors has to decide what to do," Mattei said.

If Iran ignores the resolution, Mattei said, the agency's board could discuss whether to refer the case to the UN Security Council, which has the power to impose sanctions on Iran.

Both sides - the Europeans and the Iranians - have expressed their willingness to continue negotiations, but under very different conditions.

"If the Iranian position evolves, our door is always open," Mattei said.

Iran's new chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, has said he wants to continue talking to the Europeans, but he has also ruled out suspending the conversion activities at Isfahan. Instead, Tehran now wants to discuss resuming work at a uranium enrichment facility in Natanz.

Conversion is the first and least sensitive phase of the nuclear fuel production process, while uranium enrichment is considered the most sensitive.

In the meantime, Mattei said, informal contacts continued. "We all have embassies in Tehran," he said.

Under the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, the international rules that govern nuclear materials and of which Iran is a signatory, Tehran has the right to process uranium for civilian purposes, such as nuclear power or research.

Iran has said that it does not intend to build nuclear weapons, arguing that it wants only to generate power and does not want to be dependent on others for its nuclear fuel.

The West, meanwhile, fears that Iran will use civilian nuclear technology to build a bomb. Western officials doubt that Tehran has a need for nuclear power, pointing to the country's abundant oil and gas resources, and they are concerned that Iran sponsors terrorists.