Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Forein Minister Announces End of Talks with EU Trio

Adnkronos International:
From now on, Iran will conduct negotiations over its nuclear programme with individual countries, and will no longer hold talks with Britain, France and Germany - the so-called E3 - on behalf of the European Union, Iran's foreign minister Manouchehr Mottaki announced on Tuesday. "The phase of negotiations with the EU trio is over," he told journalists at a press-conference in the Iranian capital, Tehran after a meeting with the leader of militant Palestinian group Hamas, Khaled Mashal.

"From now on, we will talk to the whole of Europe, but on a bilateral basis," Mottaki emphasised. "We will resume discussions with individual countries on the basis of shared interests and in mutual respect, without preconditions," he stated.

"The next round of talks with a European partner should start with ways for Iran to enrich the uranium it needs run its nuclear power plants," Mottaki noted. On Monday, after a day of talks with the European Union, he voiced optimism that a compromise could be found over Iran's uranium enrichment ahead of a "very important" meeting of the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) on 6 March,which reports say could start a process leading to UN punishment against Iran.

On Tuesday, a spokeswoman for IAEA chief Mohammed ElBaradei issued a denial that he had suggested Iran could be allowed to enrich a limited quantity of uranium in its own plants, as the number-two on Iran's Supreme National Security Council had claimed. READ MORE

However, Iran and Russia are continuing to hold talks to discuss a Russian proposal aimed at ending the international standoff over Iran's nuclear programme, under which it would enrich uranium for Iran on Russian soil. Western countries have backed Moscow's compromise plan, but Iran is insisting on its right to continue with nuclear research.

Iran is facing moves by the international community to refer it to the UN Security Council - the UN's top decision-making body - over its nuclear programme, after it removed IAEA seals on its nuclear plants last month when two-year-long talks with the E3 aimed at persuading Iran to give up its nuclear ambitions in exchange for trade and technology incentives, broke down.

Iran maintains that its nuclear programme is entirely peaceful and that it has a sovereign right to enrich uranium under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. However, when highly enriched, uranium may be used to make a nuclear warhead, and Western nations suspect Iran has a covert nuclear weapons programme.