EU, Iran on nuclear collision course

The European Union and Iran still seem to be on a collision course over Tehran’s alleged atomic-weapons intentions despite the revival of talks, diplomats and analysts said on Thursday.

The EU and Iran resumed talks on Wednesday, agreeing after five hours to meet again in January.

With Iran insisting on its right to make nuclear fuel, and the West fearful that this could be used to manufacture atom bombs, the two sides are far apart, EU and Iranian officials said.

The talks are aimed at resuming the formal negotiations that broke off in August, at which the EU had offered trade and security incentives for Iran to abandon uranium enrichment. Enrichment makes fuel for power reactors, but also is a technique used to make atomic-bomb material.

If talks fail, the EU, backed by the United States, has said it will take Iran to the United Nations Security Council for possible sanctions.

Iran has threatened to retaliate against such a move.

“I don’t know that it means much more than that the date of confrontation is postponed as long as Iran is not yet resuming its enrichment work,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, a non-proliferation analyst at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“The Europeans can be patient and I’m sure that they appreciated that the confrontation was postponed beyond the Christmas season,” Fitzpatrick said.

“But it will likely come in the not-too-distant future,” he said.

A French political analyst, Francois Heisbourg, said comments by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad—he denied the Holocaust and said Israel should be wiped off the map—have reduced the room to manoeuvre.

“I think that the Iranian delegation [to the talks] has to be careful not to break off with the Europeans because the somewhat crazy declarations of Ahmadinejad have made the situation fragile,” Heisbourg said.

Meanwhile, if the Europeans give in to the Iranians at this point, it would raise cries of “appeasement”, he added.

But Iran has made clear that it is not about to give in on enrichment, which is says is allowed under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

An EU diplomat said negotiators from Britain, France and Germany have warned Iranians not to take any steps “between now and January” that are considered enrichment work.

There should be no movement “in the manufacturing of centrifuge components and research on centrifuges”, the machines that enrich uranium, the diplomat said.

But an Iranian diplomat said in Vienna on Thursday that Iran does not consider such research or centrifuge work to be “a subject of the discussion”.

“The main issue is the feeding of the gas into the centrifuges in Natanz,” the diplomat said, referring to making enriched uranium from a feedstock uranium hexafluoride gas.

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.

Fitzgerald said, however, that Western nations could act without the Security Council, “such as bringing economic pressure collectively on Iran”, as the US has already proposed.

The US charges that Iran is hiding the development of nuclear weapons under the cover of a civilian atomic programme that Tehran says is peaceful.

An EU diplomat said the divide between the West and Iran is so great that it “is unclear how there could be a compromise”.—Sapa-AFP


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