Sunday, September 10, 2006

EU, Iranian Officials Hope to Build On Progress in Nuclear Impasse

The Wall Street Journal:
European Union and Iranian officials met for a second day of talks Sunday, hoping to build on progress reported a day earlier on efforts to reconcile Tehran's refusal to freeze uranium enrichment with international demands that it do so or risk United Nations' sanctions.

Sunday's talks began between aides to Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, both of whom would join the talks later in the day, according to an official familiar with the agenda.

The two sides said the talks Saturday had been "constructive." READ MORE

Being held at the Austrian chancellor's office, the meeting has been billed as possibly the last chance for Iran to avoid penalties for rejecting the U.N. Security Council's demand that it stop enriching uranium, which can be misused to make nuclear weapons.

While the five permanent Security Council members and Germany have demanded that Iran fully freeze enrichment as a condition for the talks, Tehran has steadfastly refused to do so.

Iran says it wants to develop an enrichment program to generate power. But there are growing concerns it seeks the technology to enrich uranium to weapons-grade for the core of warheads.

On Friday, U.S. Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns said Washington expected the Security Council to start discussing a draft on sanctions as early as this week unless Tehran does a last-minute turn and agrees to freeze enrichment, a possible pathway to atomic weapons. But there might be opposition to that within the council. Recent statements from some government officials suggest that Russia, China and France might be leaning toward dropping the demand that Iran stop enrichment before talks begin, in exchange for a promise to accept such a moratorium at some point in negotiations.

The six powers agreed on a package of economic and political rewards in June to be offered to Tehran, but only if it stops enrichment before the start of such negotiations, meant to achieve a long-term enrichment moratorium. But the international alliance also warned of punishments, including U.N. sanctions, if Tehran does not halt enrichment -- something Iran refused to do by an Aug. 31 deadline set by the U.N. Security Council.