EU-3, Iran fail to strike a deal in last-minute nuclear talks

3rd March 2006, Comments 0 comments

VIENNA, March 3, 2006 (AFP) - European Union powers and Iran failed Friday to strike a deal in last-ditch talks on Tehran's suspect nuclear program ahead of a crucial UN meeting that could open the way to punitive action.

VIENNA, March 3, 2006 (AFP) - European Union powers and Iran failed Friday to strike a deal in last-ditch talks on Tehran's suspect nuclear program ahead of a crucial UN meeting that could open the way to punitive action.

"Time is running out," German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said after the talks in Vienna with Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani.

"If we want success we have to act now," he added. He said the talks "were carried out in a constructive atmosphere but finally we were unable to reach agreement."

Friday's talks came ahead of a March 6 meeting of the UN nuclear watchdog, which is to make an assessment of Iran's nuclear program that will be sent to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions.

There had appeared little room for compromise, with Tehran insisting on its right to enrich uranium and Europe and the United States saying Iran must give up the process, which makes nuclear reactor fuel but also atom bomb material.

French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said Iran had to suspend all uranium enrichment activities, including for research purposes.

"It is a question of confidence," Douste-Blazy told reporters. "It is a simple, legitimate requirement which does not hinder the development of Iran. On this point, unfortunately, we could not obtain an agreement with Mr Larijani."

Also present at the hurriedly-arranged meeting, which had been requested by Larijani, was European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana and a British official representing Foreign Minister Jack Straw, who was ill.

Larijani came from talks in Moscow that failed to produce a breakthrough on a Russian proposal to enrich uranium on Iran's behalf, thus giving Tehran the fuel it needs but not the technology.

But the Iranians sounded an upbeat note Friday, insisting discussions with the Europeans would go on.

"Given the mood of the negotiations, the discussions will probably continue at the highest level," an Iranian official told AFP.

He also said the Moscow talks had produced an "agreed framework to resolve the Iranian nuclear problem and to keep it within the IAEA," the International Atomic Energy Agency.

"They also agreed to hold discussions with the other parties, notably the EU-3," he added.

The EU troika earlier this week warned Tehran that any progress was totally dependent on stopping enrichment and cooperating with IAEA inspections.

"Anything short of this would result in a public disagreement, which would set back our shared objectives," according to a letter they sent, obtained by AFP.

The United States had also voiced doubt. "We're under no illusions," State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said in Washington.

"The baseline is the same. Is Iran going to suspend enrichment activity? Is Iran going to return to the negotiations? Or is Iran going to continue, as we think they have, to stall and prevaricate and extend things in a meaningless way in order to avoid censure?" Ereli asked.

The IAEA reported Iran on February 4 to the UN Security Council but left a month open for diplomacy before the world body decides what measures, if any, to take against Tehran.

Unlike the IAEA, the Security Council has enforcement powers and it could impose sanctions. But it is expected first to urge Iran to cooperate with the nuclear agency.

The IAEA has consistently called on Iran to suspend uranium enrichment as a confidence-building measure.

But the Islamic republic last month fed a 10-centrifuge research cascade at a facility in Natanz with the feedstock uranium gas, signalling it was pushing ahead with enrichment it says is essential for a civilian energy program.

In a report earlier this week, IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei said Iran had failed to answer crucial questions about its nuclear program but stopped short of saying it was making atomic weapons.

Earlier EU talks with Iran -- aimed at promising Tehran trade and security benefits in return for guarantees it is not seeking to acquire atomic weapons -- had been torpedoed by the Islamic republic's insistence on enrichment.

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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