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. Iran, EU set date for nuclear talks
VIENNA (AFP) Dec 23, 2005
The European Union and Iran are to hold new nuclear talks on January 18, diplomats said Friday, despite the West's strong doubts that Iran will back off from possibly atomic weapons-related activities.

It was the first confirmation of the date for a meeting that was announced on Wednesday.

EU negotiators Britain, France and Germany restarted talks Wednesday with Iran over Western concerns that Tehran seeks nuclear weapons and agreed to meet again in January.

But the two sides acknowledged that wide differences remained, with Iran insisting on its right to make nuclear fuel, and the West fearful that this could be used to manufacture atom bombs.

"The meeting will be on January 18 in Vienna," said a Middle Eastern diplomat close to the talks.

Formal EU-Iran negotiations on getting Iran to cease fuel work in order to guarantee that it will not make atomic weapons broke off last August when Tehran began uranium conversion.

Conversion is the first step in making enriched uranium that can be nuclear reactor fuel or atom bomb material.

The talks that started Wednesday are to lay down a framework for formal negotiations to resume.

Another diplomat said the EU-3 countries and the United States wanted the next meeting to be held in the second half of January.

The West is "operating on the assumption that by late January, it will be clear that the current efforts at diplomacy are totally exhausted," said the diplomat who requested anonymity.

The EU-3 have threatened to take Iran before the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions if Tehran does not cooperate fully with a UN watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigation into its atomic program and abandon nuclear fuel work.

The diplomat said the West expected a breakdown in the talks and a showdown at the latest in March, when the IAEA's 35-nation board of governors holds a regular meeting in Vienna.

The IAEA board in September found Iran in non-compliance with the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) for hiding nuclear activities, a finding that requires referral to the Security Council.

But the board held off at a meeting in November from referring Iran in order to give time for Russian diplomacy.

However, Tehran has rejected a Russian suggestion for Iran to do some fuel cycle work at home while enriching uranium only on Russian soil, which would keep the sensitive activity out of Iran.

Iran says it is allowed to enrich uranium, under the provisions of the NPT, and denies it wants to make weapons.

An EU diplomat said the EU-3 had Wednesday warned the Iranians not to take any steps "between now and January" that are considered enrichment work, such as manufacturing centrifuge components, even if the centrifuges do not enrich uranium.

Iran says it has the right to do such work short of actual enrichment.

"The Iranians pretend they're talking and just get a little more," a Western diplomat said about the country's previous success in moving ahead on its nuclear program while holding negotiations.

The West is hesitating over Security Council referral as it wants to get Russia, which is helping Iran build its first nuclear power reactor and says there is no proof Iran seeks nuclear weapons, to support such a move.

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