Sunday, January 29, 2006

Iran to Hold Nuclear Talks with Europeans

Iran confirmed Sunday it was sending a senior delegation to Brussels Monday for talks with Britain, France and Germany on its disputed nuclear programme. Official media said the Iranian team would be headed by senior nuclear negotiator Javad Vaidi, but gave no details on the agenda for the discussions, which will come just days before an emergency meeting of the UN nuclear watchdog.

"The doors for negotiation are open and we can still find a formula to reach a conclusion," foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters.

The so-called EU-3 is pushing members of the International Atomic Energy Agency to refer Iran to the UN Security Council amid fears the country is using a nuclear energy drive as a cover for weapons development.

The IAEA is set to meet on February 2, although Asefi dismissed the meeting as "politicised" and argued that "dealing with Iran's case outside the IAEA will not solve anything".

Monday's talks in Brussels will also coincide with a meeting on Afghanistan in London between the United States, Britain, China, Russia and France -- the five permanent members of the Security Council -- plus Germany that is also to discuss Iran.

The Western powers are trying to convince Russia and China, who have important economic ties with Iran, to adopt a tougher approach.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said Saturday that diplomacy was still possible even as other Western leaders made clear that bringing Iran before the UN Security Council for possible sanctions was still very much on the cards.

But Straw also spoke of a "fast-changing situation", and said Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani would hold talks Monday with British officials. However it was unclear where the venue for that meeting would be and there was no confirmation from Tehran.

On Saturday Iran urged Western powers not to immediately refer the matter to the Security Council, arguing talks with Russia on a potential compromise needed "more time".

Moscow's idea to enrich uranium outside Iran is seen as a possible solution to the standoff and has received cautious and conditional support from the United States and European Union.

Russia's proposal is that the sensitive nuclear fuel work -- which could potentially be diverted to produce nuclear weapons -- is conducted outside the Islamic republic as a way of preventing Iran from acquiring bomb-making technology but also guaranteeing its access to nuclear energy.

"The Russian proposal is a good package," Asefi said.

Iran argues its nuclear programme is for strictly peaceful purposes, and says it is cooperating with a now three-year-old IAEA investigation.

"We are ready to solve any ambiguities within the framework of the IAEA," Asefi said, adding that the IAEA's deputy director for safeguards, Ollie Heinonen, had in recent days made a "fully satisfactory" visit to the Islamic republic. READ MORE

"During Mr. Heinonen's visit to Tehran, he had some questions concerning ambiguities and we answered them," the spokesman added.