Thursday, August 25, 2005

Iran in talks with U.N. nuclear watchdog

Francois Murphy, Reuters:
Iran's top nuclear negotiator is to meet the head of the U.N. atomic watchdog on Friday after announcing a plan to head off European Union preparations to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

The EU has held two years of talks with Iran to persuade it to abandon sensitive atomic work that both the 25-nation bloc and the United States suspect is aimed at making the Islamic Republic a nuclear-armed power in the volatile Middle East.

But the talks appeared close to collapse after Iran resumed uranium conversion work this month, prompting the EU to cancel an August 31 meeting. Frustrated by Iran's refusal to stop its work, the EU is now preparing the road to possible sanctions.

The visit by Iran's top negotiator Ali Larijani's to International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei in Vienna appeared to be an attempt to forestall the EU's efforts.

"I can confirm that Ali Larijani is coming and that he will be meeting with Dr. Elbaradei tomorrow morning," said IAEA spokeswoman Melissa Fleming. READ MORE

ElBaradei is due to report on Iran's activities on September 3.

Larijani said on Thursday Iran was finalising a new plan which would include broadening negotiations to involve nations outside the current trio of Britain, France and Germany which have so far represented the European Union in talks.


Larijani said he regretted the EU3's decision to cancel their August 31 meeting and said the trio should adopt a "logical approach of mutual interest instead of making obstacles".

He said questions had been raised inside Iran and by allies as to why talks were being carried out solely with the EU3.

Iran's Supreme National Security Council spokesman said broadening the nuclear talks to include other countries was part of a new initiative by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

The initiative would also encompass plans for resuming other parts of Iran's nuclear programme, currently suspended under an agreement with the EU3 made in Paris last November.

"The activities that we're going to open and how we would do that depends on the plan that will be finalised soon and announced publicly," said spokesman Ali Aghamohammadi.

Iran says all it wants to do is build nuclear power stations to satisfy booming domestic demand for electricity.

But the United States says Iran's record of hiding its nuclear programme for 18 years and a number of irregularities exposed by IAEA inspectors reveal a desire to build a bomb.

The EU says Iran broke its pledge to suspend nuclear work while talks were in progress and the EU3 is now sounding out other nations on the IAEA board on whether to call an early meeting to discuss referring Iran the Security Council.

"The Brits and the Germans are keen on an early board meeting, the French are also not opposed," said an EU3 diplomat familiar with Iran-EU negotiations.


But it was not clear whether the EU3 would gain the consensus needed to make it worth calling the meeting. They need to overcome opposition from heavyweights Russia and China.

A lot will depend on ElBaradei's report.

"First we have to see what is in the report, which will formally say that Iran has violated the suspension, we expect," the EU3 diplomat said.

Russia is helping Iran build a nuclear power station and said on Thursday it saw no evidence Tehran was breaching the global nuclear non-proliferation regime.

The Iranian opposition exile group that first reported Iran's secret nuclear programme in late 2002 said on Thursday that Iranian agents had obtained a substance from South Korea that can be used to boost explosions in atomic weapons.

The IAEA declined to comment on the allegations. Iran always dismisses the exiles as terrorists and hypocrites.