World powers meet to discuss Iran nuclear snub

Major world powers met in Brussels on Friday to plot their next move after Iran rejected a nuclear fuel deal, as the United Nations atomic watchdog’s chief warned that Tehran risked losing a “unique” opportunity.

Representatives of the five permanent UN Security Council members—Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States—plus Germany met behind closed doors, part of long-running efforts to persuade Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions.

Officials declined to say whether the six would respond to Tehran’s move, with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana’s spokesperson saying only that “the meeting is to review the latest developments on the Iran nuclear issue”.

The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, Mohamed ElBaradei, held out little hope for the talks, or the carrot-and-stick approach of incentives backed by the threat of sanctions currently being used.

“I think the Group of Six are partly meeting in an environment of desperation,” he said in Berlin. “I haven’t really talked to them but again, they talk about the dual track, but to me the second track is a dead-end street.”

Many in the West suspect that the Islamic republic is covertly trying to build a nuclear weapon. Tehran insists it is only developing a civil energy programme, and has rejected attempts to force it to stop uranium enrichment.

In an attempt to draw Iran into talks and guarantee that its nuclear ambitions are peaceful, the six have offered to reprocess some of its low-enriched uranium abroad.

But on Wednesday, Iran rejected those plans, involving more than 70% of its stock of low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad, brokered by the UN atomic watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The LEU would have been converted into nuclear fuel and returned to Iran to power a research reactor in Tehran.
Very highly refined uranium can be used to fuel an atomic bomb.

However, ElBaradei said he did not consider that to be the Islamic republic’s final word.

“I do not consider that I have received a final answer,” he said.

“We have not received any written response from Iran. What I got of course is an oral response, which basically said ‘we need to keep all the material in Iran until we get the fuel’,” he said.

He said: “I believe that frankly the ball is very much in the Iranian court. I hope that they will not miss this unique and fleeting opportunity.”

US President Barack Obama has warned that Washington has “begun discussions with its international partners about the importance of having consequences”.

“Our expectations are that over the next several weeks we will be developing a package of potential steps that we could take that will indicate our seriousness to Iran.”

Russia played down the prospect of sanctions, but France has ruled out further talks sought by Iran on technical aspects of the deal.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, again went on the offensive against Washington.

“If our nation sees they have changed their behaviour, dropped their arrogant attitude ... and return Iranian nation’s rights and assets, the nation will accept that,” he said in a televised speech.

Iran has refused to halt enrichment despite three sets of UN sanctions and it drew outrage in the West by disclosing in September a new enrichment plant, Fordo, which is being built inside a mountain near the holy city of Qom.

Iran’s Foreign Minister, Manouchehr Mottaki, said Tehran wants more talks and is prepared to consider a simultaneous exchange of uranium for fuel for its Tehran reactor.

But that is unpalatable to the Western powers, who have tired of Iran’s brinksmanship and alleged lack of good faith.—AFP

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