Thursday, October 13, 2005

In a Shift, Iran Agrees to Resume Nuclear Talks

Nazila Fathi, The New York Times:
Iran said in a statement reported Wednesday that it was willing to resume talks with three European countries about its nuclear program, but it insisted again on its right to enrich uranium for peaceful uses. It was the first official request to resume negotiations by the conservative government of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, which had adopted a tougher line on the nuclear issue after it took office in August.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Iran "was ready to resume unconditional negotiations with all member states of the International Atomic Energy Agency, including the three European countries, to strengthen cooperation and assure Iran's right to nuclear development," the ISNA news agency reported Wednesday.

Iran's announcement came as a delegation of senior officials from the International Atomic Energy Agency, led by Olli Heinonen, who has long been an expert in both the North Korean and Iranian nuclear programs, arrived in Tehran for a weeklong visit. READ MORE

Their visit is crucial because they are measuring Iran's willingness to cooperate in future inspections. Last week Iran threatened to "discontinue confidence-building measures," including inspections, if pressure on Iran built.

The I.A.E.A.'s chief, Mohamed ElBaradei, has been urging the United States and Europe not to seek a confrontation with Iran, saying he believed that patient diplomacy - and continuing inspections - are the only ways to assure that the country does not produce weapons fuel.

The United States argues that Iran already has a hidden weapons program.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice is expected to deal with the issue this week in visits to London and Paris, and the Bush administration is continuing to press Russia, which is selling Tehran nuclear fuel and technology, under conditions that it insists will prevent the country from diverting fuel to any weapons program.

Negotiations between Iran and the three European countries - Britain, Germany and France - broke down in August after Iran rejected a proposal that demanded that Iran permanently end its enrichment activities.