Iran warns of collapse of nuclear talks

Iran warned that talks with the European Union could collapse as negotiators met in Geneva on Wednesday to discuss EU demands that the Islamic republic abandon nuclear fuel work, in order to guarantee it will not make atomic weapons.

Iran expects Europe to accept its proposal to allow uranium enrichment, despite Western demands that it cease all such nuclear fuel work, Tehran’s top nuclear official, Hassan Rowhani, said in an interview published in London’s Financial Times on Wednesday.

“The Europeans should tell us whether these ideas can work as the basis for continued negotiations or not,” Rowhani said.

“If yes, fine. If not, then the negotiations cannot continue,” he said.

The United States charges that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons and must be kept from obtaining the weapons breakout capability that enrichment represents.

The warning by Rowhani, head of Iran’s supreme national security council, came as diplomats from Britain, France and Germany—the EU-3—were talking with their Iranian counterparts in Geneva, ahead of a more senior-level meeting in London on April 29.

The latest round of talks in Geneva began on Tuesday and was expected to wrap up on Wednesday.

The chief Iranian negotiator, Cyrus Nasseri, said on Wednesday: “The talks are focused on technical issues.”

Nasseri refused to reveal details of the Iranian proposal, made in March to the EU.

But according to the text, read to AFP by a diplomat close to the talks, the Iranians are proposing the “assembly, installation and testing of 3 000 centrifuges in Natanz”, the site where Iran wants to build an enrichment plant and has already built a pilot project of 164 centrifuges.

Centrifuges, placed in sequence, refine increasingly enriched uranium, which can be fuel for nuclear power reactors but also the explosive material for atom bombs.

A sequence, or cascade, of about 2 000 centrifuges could make enough highly enriched uranium in a year to make one atom bomb, experts say.

Iran suspended uranium enrichment in November last year as a confidence-building measure to start the EU-Iran talks, which offer Iran trade, security and technology rewards if it abandons enrichment.

The Iranian proposal has been referred to by other diplomats as a pilot project, below what would be the industrial levels of tens of thousands of centrifuges that Iran seeks.

But the diplomat who read the text to AFP said: “This isn’t a pilot enrichment plant they are seeking. It’s larger than that.”

“These ideas are the very last possible ideas that we could come up with as compromise options,” Rowhani said.

EU negotiators have been studying the proposal, and there have been hints of a crack in their unity over this issue.

But one European diplomat said on Tuesday that the EU-3 remain “rock-solid on cessation” by Iran of uranium enrichment.

The Financial Times said Britain, France and Germany will be struggling over the next 10 days to find a formula that will keep the talks going, without compromising on uranium enrichment.

US officials have said their support for the talks is conditional on Europe refusing to allow any enrichment.

If the talks fail, Washington will expect Europe to back it in bringing Iran before the United Nations Security Council for possible international economic sanctions.

“For our dossier to be sent to the Security Council would be a great failure on the part of Europe, the International Atomic Energy Agency and multilateralism as a whole,” Rowhani told the Financial Times.—Sapa-AFP

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