Iran says time running out in EU nuclear talks, may resume enrichment
LONDON (AFP) Apr 30, 2005
Iran threatened to defy Western nations by resuming uranium enrichment activities as it met in London Friday with European Union negotiators to discuss guarantees that it will not make nuclear weapons.
Iran has suspended uranium enrichment as a confidence-building measure for EU-Iran talks that started in December but is now waiting for an answer to its proposal to be allowed limited production of enriched uranium, which can be fuel for nuclear power reactors but also in highly refined form the explosive core of atom bombs.
"In the absence of an agreement in London, Iran will perhaps be forced to resume part of its enrichment programme," Iranian negotiator Cyrus Nasseri told Iran's official IRNA news agency from the talks venue.
EU negotiators Britain, France and Germany are holding fast to their position that Iran must give up on all nuclear fuel activity in order to provide "objective guarantees" that it will not make atomic weapons, diplomats said.
Enrichment includes making uranium gas that is fed into cascade chains of rapidly spinning centrifuges which refine out enriched uranium. Iran could decide as a partial measure to work on making the gas or on testing centrifuges, steps which would be short of actually enriching uranium.
The dinner meeting at the Cabinet Office, a tall building fronted by huge columns, on Whitehall Street in central London, broke up after four hours with the Iranian delegation leaving in two limousines and making no comments to reporters.
The United States, which backs the EU diplomatic initiative but is not party to the talks, charges that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons and must be prevented from obtaining the weapons capability which enrichment represents.
Washington has threatened to drag Iran before the UN Security Council for possible international sanctions if it resumes any enrichment activities.
"Our point is we simply do not have much time. We have a fuel program and we can't hold it much further," Nasseri, a key member of an Iranian delegation headed by Tehran's ambassador to the United Nations Mohammad Javad Zarif, had told AFP before the meeting began.
The European trio were represented by foreign ministry political directors at the talks.
In Tehran, Iran's powerful former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said Friday that the Islamic republic "wants to possess all the branches of nuclear technology, including enrichment, and it will do so at all costs."
But both Nasseri and Rafsanjani said Iran would not break off the talks, and a European diplomat said the Iranians were unlikely to take any action that would cause the EU to give up on negotiations and move to the US hardline.
Diplomats said the Europeans are only entertaining the Iranian proposal in order to keep the talks going past Iranian presidential elections on June 17, after which the EU hopes Tehran will be more settled politically and possibly able to make a deal.
But Nasseri said: "We cannot go along with waiting for elections. We need a clear ... indication as to how we are going to move forward."
According to the text of the Iranian proposal, read to AFP by a diplomat close to the talks, the Iranians seek the "assembly, installation and testing of 3,000 centrifuges in Natanz," the site where Iran wants to build an enrichment plant and has already set up a pilot project of 164 centrifuges.
A cascade of about 2,000 centrifuges could make enough highly enriched uranium in a year to make one atom bomb, experts say, although Iran has said it would only make low enriched uranium.
But Iran also wants to be able to expand the facility to include more centrifuges.
A European diplomat close to the talks had said the Iranians would get a "no" to their proposal on Friday but "camouflaged as well as possible."
"The Europeans will say they are ready to discuss the proposal but not adopt it," the diplomat said.
Iran has said repeatedly that its enrichment suspension is temporary and voluntary, as it claims the right to make nuclear fuel under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to which it is a signatory.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.