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. Iran and EU resume nuclear talks in sharp disagreement
VIENNA (AFP) Mar 06, 2005
Negotiators from Iran and the European Union meet in Geneva this week for new talks on Tehran's nuclear policy, with Iran flatly refusing to accede to the Europeans key demand that it abandon uranium enrichment, a fuel process which can also make atom bombs.

Iran's top nuclear official Hassan Rowhani warned Saturday that his country would never agree to a permanent halt on enriching uranium.

"We cannot have and we will not have negotiations with the Europeans if what they want is an end" to uranium enrichment, Rowhani told reporters in Tehran.

EU negotiators Britain, France and Germany are trying to convince Iran to dismantle nuclear fuel work which the United States says is part of a covert atomic weapons development, in return for economic and political rewards.

But Iran insists its nuclear programme is purely for civilian energy needs.

Iran agreed with the EU trio in November to suspend uranium enrichment as a "confidence-building measure" to show its nuclear intentions are peaceful, but stressed the halt would be temporary.

The suspension opened the way to talks on trade, technology and security rewards for Iran if it abandons enrichment as an "objective guarantee" that it will not develop nuclear weapons.

A diplomat close to the EU-Iran talks which began in December told AFP that while the language from Iran is hardline, it is no different than what the Iranians have been saying for months.

He said the Europeans "are waiting to see what it really means," when a fourth round of talks starts in Geneva on Wednesday and Thursday.

A further meeting is expected later in March to review progress in the talks, with the Iranians saying they might resume enrichment if they feel no headway is being made.

Iranian offical Syrus Nasseri had proposed at a meeting of the UN atomic agency in Vienna last week an arrangement for Iran to "have fuel production and we can have arrangements that will provide credible assurance to our interlocuteurs and to the international community that nothing will be diverted" from peaceful use.

A senior European diplomat told AFP that this was, however, unacceptable since the idea was to halt all enrichment activities.

One new element in the talks is that the United States has moved from a hands-off position to talking about helping the Europeans with incentives for Tehran.

The European countries hope the United States will lend its support to any deal by lifting its veto on Iran's joining the World Trade Organization (WTO), but Washington has not specified what help it will offer.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, meanwhile, said Tehran had shown "no indication" it was ready to seal a deal.

Rowhani has, in fact, dismissed the incentives being discussed as of "little significance "

He has also said that the US threat to bring Iran before the UN Security Council for allegedly secretly developing nuclear weapons would be "playing with fire" and only lead to an oil crisis. Iran is the second largest oil producer in the powerful OPEC cartel.

Rowhani also insisted that the controversial construction of a heavy water reactor in Iran was only for research purposes and and that the facility would not be used to produce plutonium for a nuclear bomb.

"The goal is research, it's a peaceful goal," he said, adding: "We are not seeking to produce plutonium for military use."

He said the construction would be completed by 2008.

The IAEA had last September asked Iran to refrain from building the reactor amid concerns about the proliferation risk, as the reactor could produce 8-10 kilograms of plutonium per year, enough to make at least one nuclear bomb annually.

Iran has rejected an offer from the European Union to help it get a light-water research reactor which is less of a proliferation threat in exchange for giving up its heavy-water project.

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.

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