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. EU-Iranian talks deadlocked but not about to collapse
VIENNA (AFP) Mar 18, 2005
EU-Iranian talks on getting Tehran to guarantee it is not developing nuclear weapons resume next week with Iran having already rejected a US initiative to move the deadlocked negotiations along.

But analysts and diplomats said the talks, which began in December and are to continue at a senior level in Paris on Wednesday, are in no danger of breaking down since both sides are still staking out positions in a negotiating process that has months yet to run.

And Iran has little room for maneuver ahead of presidential elections in the Middle Eastern country in June, with its nuclear policy probably veering either to the hardline or pragmatic depending on who wins, they said.

Meanwhile, the United States, which has not ruled out a military strike against Iran, is for the moment backing the European Union's effort to convince Iran to give up uranium enrichment, which makes nuclear fuel but what can also be the raw material for atom bombs, in return for trade, security and technology rewards.

The United States is helping the Europeans offer incentives, namely clearing the way for Iran to join the World Trade Organization (WTO) and to get parts for its run-down civil aviation fleet.

Iran has however roundly rejected these incentives as insignificant.

Iran has also said that it does not even consider abandoning enrichment to be on the table in the talks, despite its having temporarily suspended enrichment as a confidence-building measure.

Iran says it has the right to the nuclear fuel cycle according to the terms of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

On Friday, Iran and the EU were still haggling over the wording of a joint report for the foreign ministry political directors who are to meet in Paris, diplomats said.

"The hang-up is that Iran is refusing to allow the word 'cessation' (of uranium enrichment) to appear in the report, even though the EU3 (Britain, France and Germany who are negotiating on behalf of the Union) points out that using that word would be necessary to characterize accurately what the EU3 has been consistently asking for," a diplomat close to the talks told AFP.

Iran wants there to be wording of "objective guarantees" it would provide about its nuclear program, although the Iranians are not offering anything "new or useful," the diplomat said.

Diplomats said Iranian proposals to build a smaller enrichment plant than one planned or to enrich only to low levels, and not the highly enriched level that can be bomb-grade, were unacceptable as compromises.

"We have been clear from the beginning that there is no grey zone with regard to enrichment," a senior European diplomat said.

"There has been no progress in the talks," said non-proliferation expert Gary Samore from London's International Institute for Strategic Studiesthink tank.

But he said "that doesn't mean that the talks will collapse" as Iran is "not ready for a confrontation" in the UN Security Council, as the United States would like since the Council could impose international sanctions on Tehran.

"They are waiting until their domestic house is in order," Samore said, referring to the June election which will see moderate President Mohammad Khatami step down.

Another analyst, George Petrovich of the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said: "The Iranians aren't going to make any concessions before the elections. September is when you'd get down to serious business," after a new president has taken office.

Samore also said that Iran is worried since its ally Syria's problems in keeping military forces in Lebanon could "weaken Iran's power to influence Hezbollah" militants in Lebanon who are backed by both Tehran and Damascus.

Iran's position is also weakened by Washington's lining up behind the EU on the nuclear issue, with the United States winning a promise from the EU to back a referral to the Security Council if the talks with Tehran break down, Samore said.

But Petrovich said Tehran was stronger regionally since changes in the Middle East were benefitting Shia Muslims, who are in a majority in Iran and have won elections in neighboring Iraq.

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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