Thu, Jan 27, 2005 - Page 6 News List

Europe, Iran nuclear talks at impasse

DEADLOCK According to a confidential document, Tehran wants to maintain its uranium enrichment program, while the European powers continue to insist on its dismantlement


Talks between European powers and Iran are deadlocked on the key issue of uranium enrichment, with Iran refusing to consider scrapping such programs even while acknowledging they make no economic sense, according to a confidential document obtained by the AP.

The summary of the last meeting between representatives of France, the UK, Germany and Iran states that Tehran intends to maintain its enrichment program, whereas the European powers continue to insist on its "cessation" or "dismantlement."

The US and several other countries fear Iran is seeking to enrich uranium not to the low level needed to generate power, but to weapons-grade uranium that forms the core of nuclear warheads.

Iran publicly insists it only seeks to make low-grade enriched uranium to make nuclear fuel, but the summary of the last meeting on Jan. 17 in Geneva appears to blur that assertion. It says that Iran privately acknowledged what Washington and its allies have argued all along -- that as an oil rich country it does not need nuclear energy.

"Iran recognizes explicitly that its fuel cycle program cannot be justified on economic grounds," says the document, obtained on Tuesday by the AP.

Meant for restricted circulation among diplomats and government officials, the summary reflects the second round of discussions since Iran agreed to freeze all enrichment and related activities late last year while it negotiates with the Europeans on technical, economic and political support meant to reduce its international isolation.

Tehran insists the suspension is temporary and binding only until the talks end, either with or without an agreement. That in itself puts Iran at odds with the three European nations, whose main focus is turning the suspension into an Iranian commitment to scrap all plans to enrich uranium.

Diplomats familiar with the talks, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Tuesday that the atmosphere between the two sides had improved during the Jan. 17 second round.

But they said no progress is being made on the Europeans' insistence that the temporary suspension be turned into a pledge to permanently mothball all enrichment plans and activities.

"The two positions cannot coexist," said one of the diplomats, from a West European nation.

"If the impasse cannot be resolved, then there will be no solution," clearing the path for Iran to resume activities that will allow it to enrich uranium, he said.

Another diplomat agreed there was no progress on the core issue, but expressed hope common ground could be found in future rounds.

A separate confidential memorandum summarizing talks parallel to nuclear issues but focusing on political and security themes described the atmosphere of those talks as "more conducive and productive" than the initial round on Dec. 21.

It said the Europeans were resistant to Iranian insistence they be supplied with high-tech equipment to combat terrorism,

In Washington, US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher had no comment on the developments in Davos.

"We hope the Iranians agree to take the steps that the EU is looking for and to take the steps that would be required to satisfy the international community of Iran's intentions," he said.

Iran suspended uranium enrichment and all related activities in November, derailing US attempts to have it reported to the UN Security Council for alleged violations of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. The International Atomic Energy Agency, (IAEA) in Vienna, Austria, is policing the freeze.

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