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EU-3 Mulls Breaking Off Talks With Iran

AFP file photo of Iran's former President, Mohammed Khatami, visiting the yellow cake unit at the Natanz facility.

Kehl Am Rhein, Germany (UPI) Jan 10, 2006
Germany criticized Iran for resuming uranium enrichment activities, with Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier considering a suspension of talks with the Islamic Republic.

By breaking the seal at its large uranium enrichment facility in Natanz, the government in Teheran "crossed a red line they knew they couldn't cross without consequences," Steinmeier said Tuesday while at a government summit outside Berlin. Steinmeier added he wants to meet with his British and French colleagues this week to see "if there is any basis for further EU-3 negotiations with Iran."

Germany, along with Britain and France, forms the so-called European Union 3, the group leading the negotiations over Iran's controversial nuclear program.

Steinmeier on Monday had swiftly joined the world's leaders in condemning Iran's plan to resume enrichment activities, which ended a two-year suspension of the process.

The EU-3 was set to travel to Teheran Jan. 18 for the evaluation of further talks, but that trip is in serious jeopardy now, observers say. It looks as if the case will soon be referred to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions.

The decision to resume work at Natanz came after failed talks with Russia over a compromise on the ongoing row over Iran's nuclear program.

Moscow proposed Teheran carry out uranium enrichment on Russian soil to ease Western fears Iran would use the technology to produce a nuclear bomb. Both the EU and the United States have principally backed the proposal.

The EU-3 have been trying for more than two years to persuade Iran to close down its uranium enrichment program.

Iran can, under its international treaty obligations, enrich uranium, but Washington and others fear the Islamic Republic is using the process to secretly and illegally make nuclear weapons. Iran denies the charge. Large parts of the Iranian population feel the country's atomic program stands for progress and power. Iran is surrounded by atomic power Pakistan and Israel, which is believed to have atomic weapons.

Initial talks collapsed last August when Iran reopened a plant in Isfahan that had been locked down under a November 2004 deal known as the Paris Agreement.

The latest decision to reopen Nafanz, one of the most modern sites in Iran, has blown up some serious political dust.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy on Monday voiced his government's concern at the development.

"We urge Iran to immediately and unconditionally reverse its decision," Douste-Blazy told a joint press conference with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, who warned the situation was "serious."

French President Jacques Chirac on Tuesday added it was a serious mistake that Iran "didn't take the hand it was offered."

The EU now seems to have lost patience with Iran. Since last year's election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, a hard-liner, the prospects for a successful outcome of the negotiations have considerably worsened.

Ahmadinejad's anti-Semitic remarks can only fuel the distrust in Iran's motives when pursuing uranium enrichment, observers say.

"Iran is trying to test how far it can go," Ruprecht Polenz, foreign policy expert from Merkel's conservatives, told German public broadcaster Deutschlandfunk. "It wants to test whether it can separate the west...But there is no country in the world that wants to see Iran with nuclear weapons."

A leading German foreign policy expert meanwhile said Iran should be linked closely to Europe, citing the country's large energy resources and its business potential as important for the long-term interests of the EU.

"Europe should promise Iran far-reaching forms of cooperation," Volker Perthes, director of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, a Berlin-based think tank, wrote in an editorial on Monday for German daily Handelsblatt. "That way one could reach the technocratic, intellectual and bureaucratic elites in Iran, who are interested in good contacts with the rest of the world."

Perthes said the row could more likely come to an end if the EU would manage to convince Teheran it could become the "most important partner" of the body in the Middle East.

But International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei said Teheran won't get many more chances.

"I am running out of patience, the international community is running out of patience," he told Sky Television. "The credibility of the verification process is at stake, and I'd like, come March, which is my next report, to be able to clarify these issues."

Source: United Press International

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US: Iran Nuclear Move Marks 'Serious Escalation'
Washington (AFP) Jan 10, 2006
The United States called Iran's move Tuesday to resume sensitive atomic research a "serious escalation" of their nuclear row and said it was in intensive discussions with allies on a response.

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