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. EU in impasse over Iran nuclear negotiations: analysts
PARIS (AFP) Aug 25, 2005
The European Union has reached an impasse in its negotiations with Iran aimed at stopping the Islamic state developing a programme to build atomic weapons, analysts say.

"It's clear that the whole deal is stuck," a former secretary of the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Georges Le Guelte, told AFP.

Representative of the blockage is the Europeans' decision to cancel a meeting in Paris with Iranian officials that had been scheduled for August 31, but which the Iranians had rejected.

"It's very difficult to have formal talks when there is no negotiating framework and no basis for negotiation," a European diplomat close to the matter said on condition of anonymity.

The diplomat said the Iranians had rejected a detailed offer for nuclear, trade and political cooperation proposed by the European Union -- via its three leading powers France, Britain and Germany who had conducted the negotiations -- on August 5.

They had broken with a Paris agreement struck in November last year by resuming uranium ore conversion in their plant in Isfahan, he said, despite their assertions to the contrary.

In a sign of worsening prospects for further talks, Iran's new hardline nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, on Thursday challenged the legitimacy of the three European countries, known as the EU-3, to represent the entire European Union.

Quoted by state television, Larijani asked that "based on what logic and agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency have the negotiations been limited and dependent on the three European countries?

"Who does the EU-3 represent in the negotiations? Is it the (IAEA) board of governors, the EU, the United Nations or themselves?"

Paris has tried to project a semblance of calm over the divergences by saying Thursday that Europe was ready to study a package of counter-propositions put forward by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday and had left "the door open" to resuming talks.

For Francois Heisbourg, the head of France's Foundation for Strategic Research (FRS), "the Iranians are saying: 'we've left last year's agreements but we can still negotiate what points are left'. It's staggering."

The EU troika is also on the backfoot because of a political and economic context that favours Iran, according to an analyst at the the FRS and at the Centre of International Research and Studies (CERI), Bruno Tertrais.

"The situation with the Americans in Iraq makes a military option unlikely in their view, and the high price of oil gives them a good short-term perspective for revenues," particularly should economic sanctions be employed, he said.

"Iran feels now... that the wind is at their back and they can be more assertive than they have been in the past," said Karim Sadjadpour, of the Brussels-based International Crisis Group.

Confronted with Iranian intransigence, Europe is now contemplating taking the matter before the UN Security Council, as the United States has long pushed for.

"The Europeans have decided that if Iran does not restore the suspension by September 3rd, they will argue that the IAEA board of governors must refer Iran to the Security Council for further action," said Gary Samore, of London's International Institute for Strategic Studies.

With that board dominated by European members and their allies, a referral would be assured, he said.

"Either way the issue is going to go to New York (where the UN Security Council is based) because it looks like Iran is not prepared to back down and the EU3 is not prepared to back down."

The European diplomat said that step was not inevitable.

"For us, all this is fairly gradual. In the interim, we have not closed the door to contacts with the Iranians," he said.

But Le Guelte said that "if the Iranians are willing to go right to the end to procure nuclear weapons, there will be a choice between two equally bad solutions: either letting Iran get those weapons -- and it may then be followed by at least half a dozen other countries -- or taking up the military solution."

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