Iran, six world powers agree on further nuclear talks

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

GENEVA - Iran and six world powers ended their first nuclear talks in more than a year Tuesday by scheduling a further round next month, but Western officials said they had received no indication whether Tehran is really willing to find a solution this time.

Both Iran and the group of US, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China had deliberately set themselves the modest goal for Geneva to find a way to further, more substantial talks.

“We and Iran agreed on a continuation of these talks in late January in Istanbul, where we plan to discuss practical ideas and ways of cooperating, towards a resolution of our core concerns about the nuclear issue,” EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.

Ashton acted as the six world powers’ top negotiator.

Western diplomats said the talks could take place in the week of Jan 25.

Many countries fear that Iran enriches uranium to make fuel for nuclear weapons, not for power-generation reactors, as it claims.

But four rounds of increasingly harsh UN Security Council Sanctions have not swayed Tehran to halt its enrichment plants or to be more transparent with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The previous round of talks took place in Geneva in October 2009. That meeting’s outcome, a confidence-building deal on Iran’s nuclear material, was never implemented as tensions between the two sides increased in the past year.

The 2009 round had also ended to meet within the following weeks, and outcome that likewise never materialised.

Asked whether Iran had now changed its tough stance in any way, France’s top diplomat Jacques Audibert shrugged and told reporters, “We’ll see in the future.”

Commenting on Tehran’s apparent willingness to keep talking, a senior US administration official said, “The question now really is whether or not this is more about tactics, or whether it’s about a serious interest in engaging with the rest of us to move practically toward a resolution.”

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Saeid Jalili, stressed that his country would not budge on the Security Council’s demand to halt enrichment.

“We will not allow any country to force us into talks over our nuclear rights and there will be no concessions in this regard, either,” he said in a press conference, referring to all nations’ right to pursue nuclear technology.

Ashton commented, “We recognise Iran’s rights, but we insist it fulfils its international obligations,” in a nod to Tehran’s lack of cooperation with the IAEA. The Vienna-based agency has voiced concern that Iran could be pursuing projects to develop nuclear arms.

But some Western diplomats speaking on the condition of anonymity also pointed to a positive outcome of the Geneva talks, namely that the six powers had spoken with one voice. In the past there had been different accents coming from these countries.

“The Iranian side was not in a position to claim that the other side was split,” a diplomat said. “Russia and China were also in the same boat.”

Besides the nuclear topic, some other issues were raised by both sides, including Iran’s concerns over a possible Israeli attack on its nuclear facilities, and Western views that Iran is undermining the Middle East peace process.

The Western diplomats said the target for Istanbul was to focus on Iran’s nuclear programme. After that, other issues must be discussed with Iran, but that would need time and patience, they said.

Officials from Iran and the group of six said talks in Istanbul could focus on reviving a plan hatched out in Geneva last year, under which Iran would continue enriching for the time being, but would export the product as a signal that the material would not be used for weapons.

The proposal had quickly faltered amid Iranian political infighting in Iran, expansion of the country’s nuclear programme, and additional international sanctions.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday called for the lifting of these punitive measures as the first condition for fruitful results at nuclear talks in Geneva.

His comments coincided with an announcement by the United Arab Emirates announced it would implement the latest round of UN sanctions.

Recently leaked US diplomatic cables have revealed that several Arab countries are seriously concerned about a military nuclear threat from Iran.

Filed under: Diplomacy

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