Tehran flexible on nuclear ambition ahead of crucial EU talks
TEHRAN (AFP) Nov 04, 2004
Iran appeared set Thursday to bow to a key European demand aimed at ending a dispute with the international community over its nuclear program, at least temporarily, in the hope of avoiding a crisis.
Iranian and European officials are due to meet in Paris on Friday for the latest stage of talks that Tehran has described as "crucial".
The EU, represented by Britain, France and Germany, is trying to convince Iran to suspend all uranium enrichment activities in order to avert the threat of UN-imposed sanctions.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) will meet on November 25 to decide whether to haul Tehran before the UN Security Council over its nuclear ambitions.
The United States accuses Iran of secretly trying to develop nuclear weapons under cover of its civilian atomic energy program, a charge vehemently denied by Tehran.
On Tuesday one of Iran's top nuclear negotiators, Hossein Mousavian, said his country might agree to suspend enrichment for six months, in order to give time to negotiate an agreement with the Europeans.
But he added: "Cessation is rejected. Indefinite suspension is rejected. Suspension shall be a confidence-building measure and a voluntary decision by Iran and in no way a legal obligation."
Europe's three powers are offering Iran nuclear technology, including access to nuclear fuel, increased trade and help with Tehran's regional security concerns if the Islamic Republic halts enrichment.
Uranium enrichment is the process which makes fuel for civilian reactors but can also be used to manufacture the material for the explosive core of nuclear weapons.
Tehran has so far refused an indefinite suspension, demanding instead more "concrete" proposals.
Western diplomats say the suspension must be indefinite as that is the only guarantee that nuclear fuel used in Iranian reactors is not subsequently diverted to a military purpose.
But the Europeans have also said they would be satisfied with an interim suspension, during which time a more permanent solution could be found.
"I hope that the problems will be solved within a reasonable period of time, during which we could accept to suspend" enrichment, an advisor to President Mohammad Khatami, Hassan Ghafurifard, said on state television.
The atmosphere surrounding Friday's talks is already more relaxed than it has been on previous occasions.
"Neither Iranians nor Europeans want to be stuck in a dead end. Both sides are pragmatic, have worked hard and made concessions," Iran's former representative at the IAEA, Ali Akbar Salehi, told AFP.
Europe is treading carefully in negotiations, knowing that any suspension of nuclear activities by Iran must also be verifiable by the IAEA ahead of its November 25 meeting, putting more pressure on both sides.
The Iranian parliament has already passed a bill authorising uranium enrichment, and may yet pass a law obliging the government to resume the process.
Whatever happens ahead of the IAEA meeting, European diplomats do not exclude referring Iran to the UN Security Council at a later date.
Meanwhile, some observers are expecting Iran's Supreme Guide Ali Khamenei to pronounce on the matter when he leads prayers in the capital on Friday.All rights reserved. © 2005 Agence France-Presse. Sections of the information displayed on this page (dispatches, photographs, logos) are protected by intellectual property rights owned by Agence France-Presse. As a consequence, you may not copy, reproduce, modify, transmit, publish, display or in any way commercially exploit any of the content of this section without the prior written consent of Agence France-Presse.