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US Insists Any Iranian Enrichment Suspension Must Be Verified

Iran must comply with a suspension of uranium enrichment as outlined by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the UN Security Council.
by Staff Writers
Washington (AFP) Sep 27, 2006
The United States Tuesday noted "hopeful" signs from Iran, on the eve of Tehran's latest nuclear talks with Europe, but warned sanctions were still on tap if diplomacy fails. Intrigue over the talks, due to be held Wednesday in an undisclosed location, was further deepened by a newspaper report here that Tehran was close to announcing a halt to uranium enrichment.

The suspension would last 90 days to allow time for more talks with European nations, The Washington Times reported.

Asked whether the report was true, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack told reporters: "An accurate answer to that question would involve having very clear and accurate insight into the decision-making process of the Iranian regime, which we don't have."

McCormack said there were promising signals from Tehran.

"I have heard some hopeful statements from the Iranian foreign minister, for example. We'll see if those are borne out," he said.

"We certainly hope that the answer is, 'Yes, we will suspend; we will verifiably suspend, in order to get to negotiations.' ... That's certainly our preferred course of action here," he said.

But Iran must comply with a suspension of uranium enrichment as outlined by the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, and the UN Security Council.

"The United States will not be at the table for any negotiations absent a suspension as outlined by the IAEA and the Security Council," McCormack said.

"That means it has to be a verifiable suspension. And suspension means suspension means suspension.".

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana and top Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani are tentatively set to meet Wednesday, but the location of the talks remained uncertain, diplomats told AFP.

The date could change, as has happened in recent weeks for several EU-Iran meetings, and the site of the meeting was in doubt. The two men had been expected to meet in New York last week but did not.

A senior European diplomat said: "They are set to meet tomorrow (Wednesday) in Brussels," but Solana's spokeswoman in Brussels said the meeting would not be held there.

A second senior European diplomat said the meeting could be in Berlin.

The uncertainty of the timing and place of the Solana-Larijani talks, which were last held in Vienna earlier this month, reflects the delicacy of the diplomacy involved, as the two sides are trying at the 11th hour to stave off a US push for UN Security Council sanctions against Iran.

Iran is under pressure as it has defied the Council's August 31 deadline for it to halt uranium enrichment, which makes fuel for civilian nuclear power reactors but also -- in highly refined form -- the raw material for atom bombs, or face sanctions.

The United States accuses Iran of secretly developing nuclear weapons but Tehran insists that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful energy needs, and that it has a right to enrich uranium under the Non-Proliferation Treaty.

According to Tuesday's report in The Washington Times, Iran is close to a secret deal that would have it suspend its uranium enrichment program for 90 days, in order to hold additional talks with several European nations.

The suspension of its enrichment program would be kept secret while the additional negotiations take place, unidentified US officials told the daily.

US officials opposed to the secret deal told the daily that allowing Iran to suspend its uranium enrichment activities for 90 days would be giving in to Tehran in its continued defiance of the United Nations.

Keeping the agreement secret, they added, would provide Iran with a face-saving measure, but would be difficult since any halt in the nuclear program would have to be verified by the IAEA.

But State Department officials supporting the deal see it as a step toward achieving a complete halt to Iran's enrichment activities, the conservative daily said.

US President George W. Bush is reportedly unhappy with the secrecy demand, officials said.

earlier related report
Iran denies key nuclear demand on agenda in crunch talks
Tehran (AFP) Sep 26 - Iran on Tuesday ruled out discussing a key international demand over its nuclear programme in talks between its top atomic negotiator and the EU's foreign policy chief set to be held this week.

Diplomats told AFP the talks between Iran's Ali Larijani and the EU's Javier Solana -- already the subject of numerous postponements -- were due to take place on Wednesday although this still risked changing.

But the deputy head of Iran's atomic energy organisation ruled out discussing a suspension of uranium enrichment activities in the talks, a move European and US leaders have said is crucial for resolving the standoff.

"Such issues will not be addressed in the next negotiations," Atomic Energy Organization deputy head Mohammad Saeedi told the Iranian student news agency ISNA in Moscow.

His comments underline the obstacles that could yet block attempts to find an agreement despite positive noises from both sides that the momentum is heading in the right direction.

At their last talks in Vienna earlier this month, diplomats said that Iran offered to suspend uranium enrichment for two months although this has never been officially confirmed by the Islamic republic.

The Washington Times reported Tuesday that Iran was close to agreeing to a secret deal that would have it suspend uranium enrichment for 90 days in order for additional talks to take place with several European nations.

The suspension of its enrichment program would be kept secret while the additional negotiations take place, unidentified US officials told the daily, adding that Washington strongly opposed such a clandestine deal.

The crunch EU-Iran talks are seen as a last chance for Tehran to accept a package of economic and diplomatic incentives in exchange for it freezing enrichment work the West fears could be chanelled into producing nuclear arms.

"As Mr Larijani has said, the 5+1 proposal will be the basis for future talks with the 5+1 representative" Solana, Saeedi said while on a visit to Moscow.

The so-called 5+1 group comprises permanent UN Security Council members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany.

Uranium enrichment can be used to make the fuel for a nuclear power station but in highly enriched form can also be employed to make the explosive core of a nuclear bomb.

Iran insists that its nuclear program is solely for peaceful energy needs, vehemently rejecting US allegations that it is seeking to manufacture nuclear weapons.

Diplomats told AFP that Larijani and Solana were tentatively set to meet on Wednesday but warned that this date could change, as has happened in recent weeks for several EU-Iran meetings.

"They are set to meet tomorrow (Wednesday) in Brussels," a senior European Union diplomat said.

But he added, in comments echoed by a second diplomat, this "can change. The deputies are meeting today (Tuesday)" and the two sides would "play it by ear after that".

The US has threatened that Iran could face immediate international sanctions if it does not halt enrichment.

The negotiations were given a last chance after Washington, under pressure from Europe and China, backed down on its demand for immediate sanctions against Iran for failing to meet an August 31 UN deadline to freeze enrichment.

According to European diplomats, Western powers have set the start of October as a final deadline for Iran to give its definitive response to the 5+1 offer.

The moves came as Russia and Iran signed an agreement setting next September as the deadline for the long-delayed launch of the Russian-built Bushehr nuclear power station, the Islamic republic's first.

Iran has bitterly complained of Russian delays in the construction of the reactor, which Moscow is building in the teeth of US objections that it should not be involved in the project.

The plant will produce electricity from November next year, Russian officials said, while the nuclear fuel for the plant will be delivered no later than next March.

earlier related report
Russia will not offer ultimatums to Iran: FM
Moscow (AFP) Sep 26 - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Russia would not offer ultimatums to Iran because that would lead to "a stalemate and a new crisis" in the Middle East, it was reported on Tuesday.

"We cannot join in offering ultimatums that would lead everyone to a stalemate and create a new crisis in this already seriously destabilised region," Lavrov said on Monday evening, according to the ITAR-TASS news agency in Los Angeles.

The US has threatened that Iran could face immediate international sanctions if it does not halt uranium enrichment work the West fears could be chaneled into producing nuclear arms.

"No one wants Iran to have the nuclear bomb, but it is also extremely dangerous to embark upon a fruitless confrontation" with Tehran, Lavrov said in a speech to the Los Angeles World Affairs Council, a Californian organisation.

Iran's top atomic negotiator Ali Larijani and the EU's Javier Solana are due to meet this week to discuss the country's nuclear programme.

The crunch EU-Iran talks are seen as a last chance for Tehran to accept a package of economic and diplomatic incentives in exchange for it freezing enrichment.

The negotiations were given a last chance after Washington, under pressure from Europe and China, backed down on its demand for immediate sanctions against Iran for failing to meet an August 31 UN deadline to freeze enrichment.

According to European diplomats, Western powers have set the start of October as a final deadline for Iran to give its definitive response to the offer from the so-called 5+1 group, comprising permanent UN Security Council members Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States plus Germany.

Source: Agence France-Presse

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