Tue, Dec 07, 2010 - Page 6 News List

Strong rhetoric, low expectations in new Iran talks


Iran and six world powers were scheduled to hold negotiations about the country’s nuclear program yesterday with low expectations, at odds on what to talk about and with tensions high over the assassination of one of Tehran’s most prominent scientists.

The talks in Geneva — the first in more than a year — are meant to ease concerns over Iran’s nuclear agenda. Neither Israel nor the US have ruled out military action if Tehran fails to heed UN Security Council demands to freeze key nuclear programs.

Iran’s stance was highlighted on Sunday, when it announced it had delivered its first domestically mined raw uranium to a processing facility, claiming it is now self-sufficient over the entire nuclear fuel cycle.

A senior diplomat in Vienna who is familiar with the issue said the move was expected and mainly symbolic. However, the timing of the announcement was significant in signaling, just a day ahead of the Geneva talks, that Tehran was unlikely to meet international demands that it curb its nuclear activities.

Over two planned days, Iran’s top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili will meet with EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, with Ashton’s office saying she would act “on behalf” of the US, China, Russia, France, Britain and Germany, although senior officials for those six powers will attend and do much of the talking with Tehran.

Chances of meaningful progress were low even before the assassination late last month of a prominent nuclear scientist and the wounding of another further clouded hopes of success at the talks.

Jalili called the killing a “disgrace” for the UN Security Council on Saturday, claiming the attacks were linked to efforts to implement international sanctions. He did not elaborate.

Still, the expected presence of Ali Bagheri reflects the importance Iran attaches to the meeting. Officials familiar with the composition of the Iranian delegation say Bagheri has a direct line to Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Western officials urged Tehran to meet international concerns about its nuclear activities.

Invoking possible military confrontation over Iran’s nuclear defiance, British Defence Secretary Liam Fox said on Saturday that the Geneva talks need to make a serious start toward resolving the issue.

“We want a negotiated solution, not a military one — but Iran needs to work with us to achieve that outcome,” he said. “We will not look away or back down.”

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said it was up to Iran to restore trust about its nuclear intentions, urging it to come to Geneva prepared to “firmly, conclusively reject the pursuit of nuclear weapons.”

However, for Iran the main issues are peace, prosperity — and nuclear topics only in the context of global disarmament.

“Iran has not and will not allow anybody in the talks to withdraw one iota of the rights of the Iranian nation,” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said before the scheduled talks, warning the other nations at the table to “put aside the devil’s temper” and negotiate in good faith.

Chief US delegate to the International Atomic Energy Agency Glyn Davies said the talks were meant to shape conditions for “a new start,” even while insisting that Iran’s nuclear program “has to be first and foremost on the agenda.”

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