Tuesday, November 22, 2005

EU, Iran to meet in December on nuclear dispute: diplomat

Yahoo News:

AFP Tue Nov 22, 2:08 PM ET

Britain, France, Germany and Russia have set a provisional date in December to meet with Iran in a move aimed at breaking the deadlock over Tehran's disputed nuclear program, a diplomat told AFP.

"The date is December 6. There is no agreement yet on the venue," said a European diplomat, who asked to remain anonymous due to the sensitivity of the issue.

New talks would be the next step after the United States and the so-called EU-3 -- Britain, France and Germany -- put off calling this week on the UN nuclear watchdog to send the Iranian case to the UN Security Council, in order to give Russia time to get Tehran to agree to a compromise.

The West fears that Iran is using a civilian nuclear power program to hide covert development of atomic weapons. Tehran says its program is a peaceful project to generate electricity.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair said Tuesday that Iran's suspected aim to make the bomb could pose a "very serious threat to world stability and peace."

The United States hopes that getting countries such as Iranian ally Russia involved in talks will help get Tehran "off the dangerous course it's on," said Gregory Schulte, US ambassador to the UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The message that must be sent was that pressure was coming not just from the United States and the EU-3 but was "a much broader international consensus," Schulte told reporters.

According to the European diplomat, the idea for the December meeting would be to "talk about (resuming) talks" between Iran and the trio of European Union negotiators on guaranteeing Tehran will not make nuclear weapons.

The talks broke off in August when Iran resumed uranium conversion it had suspended nine months earlier.

Conversion turns uranium ore into the gas that is the feedstock for making enriched uranium, which can be fuel for either nuclear power reactors or the raw material for atom bombs.

There would be "no strings attached", to the December talks, the European diplomat said, although Iran should be "prepared to discuss seriously" a Russian compromise proposal under which Tehran's uranium enrichment would be carried out in Russia.

Possible venues for the meeting include Moscow, Vienna and Geneva. According to the diplomat, while the logistics were not in place it would almost certainly take place unless Iran escalated the crisis, such as by moving ahead with actual enrichment.

This week's IAEA board meeting will not refer Iran to the Security Council, a move which could lead to sanctions, another Western diplomat said on Monday.

The body's 35-nation board of governors meets in Vienna Thursday to review progress after calling on Iran in September to cease all nuclear fuel work, to cooperate with an IAEA investigation and to return to talks with the European Union.

The IAEA board had also in September found Iran in non-compliance with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a ruling that opens the way to bringing the matter to the Security Council.

Russia and China, which also has strong economic ties with Tehran, both support Iran's right to civilian nuclear technology and oppose any referral to the world body.

The Western diplomat speaking Monday said the United States felt it was "worth taking a few more months to work on Russia and China to bring them on board" to support UN referral if diplomacy fails.

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