Thursday, April 20, 2006

EU rejects idea of Iran enrichment "pause"-diplomats

Louis Charbonneau, Reuters:
European diplomats on Thursday dismissed as unacceptable a suggestion that Iran take a brief "technical pause" from its nuclear enrichment activities in an attempt to revive collapsed negotiations with the EU.

Several diplomats told Reuters that Mohamed ElBaradei, the director-general of the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), discussed this idea with Iranian officials during a visit to Tehran last week and hoped it could revive collapsed negotiations with the "EU3" -- France, Britain and Germany. READ MORE

But European Union diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said it was unacceptable and reiterated that Iran had to reinstate a full and sustained suspension of all uranium enrichment activity in order for talks to resume.

"A full suspension is the only way to resolve this and the Iranians have given no indication they are willing to do that," a senior EU diplomat told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

Iran, which the West believes is secretly developing nuclear weapons, announced in January that it was resuming its enrichment programme, prompting the EU3 to break off 2-1/2 years of talks with Tehran. Iran says it only wants atomic energy.

Another EU diplomat said the Iranians raised the idea of a pause in enrichment at a meeting on Wednesday with the EU3 in Moscow. However, this would be followed by an acceleration of enrichment, the diplomat said.

"(Iran) spoke about a technical pause before putting in motion the next two cascades, which is frankly unacceptable," the EU diplomat said "The EU3's bottom line is there must be full suspension for a period of time during which we can resume the negotiations. That was not what we heard from the Iranians."

Iran has already enriched uranium in a cascade of 164 centrifuges -- machines that purify uranium by spinning at supersonic speeds.

While such a small cascade may take as long as two decades to produce enough highly enriched uranium for one weapon, Iran has vowed to start installing 3,000 centrifuges later this year -- theoretically enough to fuel one bomb per year.

Iran last week defied U.N. demands and declared it had enriched uranium to a level used in power stations.

The U.N. Security Council has asked ElBaradei to report by April 28 on Iran's compliance with a council demand that it suspend its entire uranium enrichment programme and answer the agency's questions on its nuclear programme.

U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns told reporters in Moscow that Washington was opposed to allowing Iran any kind of pause, calling some of Iran's negotiating positions "a ruse".

(Additional reporting by Paul Taylor in Brussels and Mark Heinrich in Vienna)