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. EU wants mission to help Iran get light-water nuclear reactor: diplomat
GENEVA (AFP) Feb 11, 2005
EU negotiators offered to send a mission to help Iran obtain a nuclear light-water research reactor, in what would be the first concrete move towards rewarding Tehran for abandoning uranium enrichment, diplomats said as four days of EU-Iranian talks ended Friday.

Iran's reaction was not immediately known in talks that have been deadlocked since beginning in December.

The trio of Britain, France and Germany, representing the European Union, is trying to convince Iran to dismantle an enrichment program that the United States says is part of secret nuclear weapons development.

In return, Iran would get economic and political rewards.

The United States is warily watching the talks, which began in December in Brussels and are to continue next month, apparently in Geneva.

Washington backs the diplomacy but has not ruled out military action against Iran, which President George W. Bush has called part of an "axis of evil" of rogue states seeking nuclear weapons.

The talks come as another state in this so-called axis, North Korea, proclaimed this week that it has nuclear weapons and no longer wishes to negotiate with the West about them, in a move that has raised tension worldwide about atomic proliferation.

In Geneva, the European trio and Iran discussed having the trio send a mission to help Iran get a light-water research reactor that would be less of a proliferation risk than a heavy-water reactor the Iranians want to build, a diplomat close to the talks told AFP.

Heavy-water reactors use natural uranium and can produce significant amounts of plutonium, a prime nuclear weapons material.

The European trio had proposed a mission on the light-water reactor at previous talks in Geneva in January but the Iranians had not responded, said the diplomat, who asked not to be named.

Non-proliferation expert Gary Samore, of London's International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), told AFP by telephone that the Europeans wanted to send the mission "to demonstrate that progress is being made."

But the Iranians are delaying since they fear "setting a precedent of European support with peaceful nuclear technology in exchange for Iran agreeing to abandon its indigenous program," said Samore, who served as a government advisor on non-proliferation issues to former US president Bill Clinton.

A second diplomat said that this week's meeting should be seen as part of "a process," with another session at this experts level in March and then later in that month a more senior "steering committee meeting" to give a first overview of progress.

The talks were the third round since Iran agreed with the EU in November to suspend uranium enrichment, the key process in making what can be nuclear fuel but also the explosive core of atomic bombs, in return for negotiations on giving benefits that could range from a reactor to entry into the World Trade Organization (WTO).

Both enriched uranium and plutonium are atomic bomb materials.

Iran refuses however to expand its suspension into a definitive abandonment of enrichment, claiming it has the right under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty to make enriched uranium.

Diplomats stressed that none of the rewards the European trio is holding out to Iran would be given before the uranium enrichment issue was resolved, and that rewards also depended on the United States signing on to the process.

The first diplomat said talks on this issue in Geneva "deepened discussions the two sides have had before without the two sides coming much closer."

Iran's cessation of enrichment remained the EU's "final goal," the diplomat said.

As to whether the EU might be opening a door to compromise by dropping its insistence that enrichment facilities actually be dismantled, the diplomat said "first you have to agree on the principle."

The second diplomat said the key issue in the talks was determining "what objective guarantees the Iranians can produce" to show they are not interested in developing nuclear weapons.

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