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. Nuclear talks this month will be decisive: Iran
TEHRAN (AFP) Dec 11, 2005
Iran said Sunday that a planned meeting later this month with Britain, France and Germany on its disputed nuclear programme will be decisive for the future of diplomacy over the crisis.

Foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi also reiterated that Iran would be sticking by its demand to conduct ultra-sensitive nuclear fuel work -- despite fears such activities could be diverted to make an atomic bomb.

"This meeting will be very serious. Everything depends on this meeting," Asefi said of the planned talks -- provisionally scheduled to take place in Vienna on December 21.

"We expect this meeting to pay attention to the facts and Iran's rights. We believe that we must be treated without discrimination. We don't want more than others and we won't settle for anything less," he said.

"The topic will be Iran's right to enrichment," he added.

EU-Iran talks collapsed in August when Tehran ended its suspension of uranium conversion, a first step towards enrichment, and the planned talks are aimed at finding if an avenue is open for resuming negotiations.

But the two sides remain fundamentally deadlocked over the core issue of Iran's effort to master the entire nuclear fuel cycle -- a process that culminates in the enrichment of uranium.

As a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Iran argues that fuel cycle work for peaceful purposes is a "right". It says it only wants to make reactor fuel, but the process can be extended to make weapons material.

The EU-3 -- backed by the United States -- want Iran to give up such work as an "objective guarantee" it will not acquire weapons. They want to push for a compromise under which Iran's enrichment work would be carried out in Russia, although this has already been rejected by Tehran.

Asefi said the only chance for the negotiations was if the European side compromises -- even though this appears to be out of the question.

"If the Europeans are rational and act according to NPT and international agreements, there is nothing to worry about and the meeting will have a good result," Asefi told reporters.

"It all depends on the European side and whether they enter the talks and give us our rights," he said.

The International Atomic Energy Agency has said Iran is not complying with the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), which could lead to referral to the UN Security Council and possible sanctions.

The IAEA last month put off such action after the EU-3 agreed to give time for Russian diplomacy to work -- but the head of the UN nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, has warned that the international community was "losing patience" with Iran.

The climate for talks has worsened after Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad questioned the Holocaust and suggested Israel be relocated to Europe. In October he provoked a similar diplomatic storm after calling for Israel to be "wiped off the map".

Britain's Sunday Times also reported that Israel's armed forces have been ordered by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to be ready by the end of March for possible strikes on alleged secret uranium enrichment sites in Iran.

The order came after Israeli intelligence warned the government that Iran was operating enrichment facilities, believed to be small and concealed in civilian locations, the paper said.

Asefi, however, said "the Zionist knows better than to pull such tricks with the Islamic Republic of Iran".

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