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. EU-Iranian talks on resolving nuclear issue still on track: diplomats
VIENNA (AFP) Nov 01, 2004
The Iranian parliament's vote backing the resumption of uranium enrichment was mainly tactical, designed to strengthen Tehran's hand in nuclear talks with the EU, rather than a rejection of European demands for a halt to enrichment, diplomats said Monday.

"People are noting that it was a resolution, not ratified into law," a Western diplomat close to the Vienna-based nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) told AFP about the vote Sunday in Iran, which the United States charges is secretly developing nuclear weapons.

Diplomats said a meeting set for Friday in Paris for Iran to negotiate with the European Union on incentives for abandoning uranium enrichment was still on track.

The European Union, represented by Britain, France and Germany, is trying to work out a deal to keep the IAEA, which meets in Vienna on November 25, from deciding to take the dossier to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions against Islamic Republic.

In return for full suspension of uranium enrichment by Iran, the EU is offering peaceful nuclear technology, including nuclear fuel, as well as trade advantages and support on security issues.

But to calls of "Death to America," Iran's conservative-dominated parliament passed a text Sunday backing enrichment, the process that makes fuel for civilian reactors but which can also be used to make the explosive core of atomic bombs.

The United States and the EU have called on Iran to abandon uranium enrichment in order to show its peaceful intentions.

Iran claims its nuclear program is for civilian purposes and insists on its right to the peaceful use of nuclear technology.

Still, Iran is continuing to negotiate ahead of Friday's talks in Paris and will be meeting in Vienna on Tuesday with non-aligned states from the IAEA, diplomats said.

"The Iranians are trying to develop ways to put pressure on the Europeans, and this parliamentary vote is an example of that," a Non-Aligned Movement diplomat said.

The "Iranians have not ruled out talks. They're just trying to strengthen their position," the diplomat said.

Iran's foreign ministry offered hope for the negotiations, calling for concrete commitments from the EU if the Islamic Republic were to abandon uranium enrichment.

Foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi urged the Europeans to "clarify what they mean" when they say a suspension of uranium enrichment will last until a long-term deal is agreed.

"We are expecting from them (Europe) a calendar of cooperation, and we will insist on that point," Asefi said.

The EU is considering making concessions to Iran to further sweeten its offer, but the hardline United States is unhappy with such a compromise, a Western diplomat told AFP on Friday.

The diplomat said the EU negotiating trio was considering making concessions to Iran up front while a long-term agreement is hammered out.

These would include guaranteeing Iran's right to peaceful nuclear technology, promising to support Iran in having international access to nuclear fuel and giving assurances immediately on a European offer to help Iran obtain a light-water research reactor if it abandons plans to build a heavy-water reactor, the diplomat said.

Light-water reactors can be designed to prevent nuclear proliferation, while heavy-water reactors could easily produce weapons-grade plutonium.

The Europeans would also be ready to have IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei report on Iran "as appropriate" to the agency's board of governors, rather than at every meeting as he currently does.

The United States "has already told the EU informally that it thinks these concessions are an unhelpful step," the diplomat said.

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