threat of possible UN sanctions.
The new round of talks comes as Iran hints it may voluntarily suspend some unspecified nuclear activities in an attempt to reach a compromise with the Europeans. Associated Press
WILLIAM J. KOLE
VIENNA, Austria - European negotiators resume talks with Iran on Wednesday on a last-chance offer of incentives aimed at getting Tehran to stop enriching uranium and avoid the threat of possible UN sanctions.
The new round of talks comes as Iran hints it may voluntarily suspend some unspecified nuclear activities in an attempt to reach a compromise with the Europeans.
Britain, France and Germany have offered Iran a trade deal and peaceful nuclear technology, including a light-water research reactor, in return for assurances that the country will stop uranium enrichment, which can produce fuel for both nuclear energy and atomic weaponry.
Diplomats called the package a "last chance" offer to Iran ahead of a key Nov. 25 meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency, which could result in Tehran's defiance being reported to the UN Security Council, which has the authority to impose punishing sanctions.
The Vienna-based IAEA is not directly involved in the offer, but agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei has said he welcomes any attempt to negotiate an end to the standoff.
Iran insists its nuclear activities are peaceful and geared solely toward generating electricity. The United States, pointing to Iran's vast oil reserves, contends it is running a covert nuclear weapons program. U.S. President George W. Bush labelled Iran part of an "axis of evil" with North Korea and prewar Iraq.
Heightening the U.S. concerns, Iran has resumed testing, assembling and making centrifuges used to enrich uranium.
Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Hasan Rowhani, told state television this week his government would respond officially Wednesday to the incentives offer, which the European Union has called an EU initiative.
Iran repeatedly has refused to abandon uranium enrichment, a key demand of the international community. Although the European envoys who presented their offer to the Iranians in Vienna last week made it clear they would not budge on the enrichment issue, Rowhani suggested there was some flexibility in the talks.
Rowhani said Iran might be willing to consider a temporary suspension of enrichment, but he cautioned: "No other country can stop us exploring technology which is the legal right of Iran."
He said Iran had run its program "under the influence of agreements and safeguards of the IAEA" and had signed a so-called additional protocol to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, which allowed unfettered IAEA inspections of Iranian facilities.
"So based on the rules, Iran's dossier cannot be referred to the Security Council. It's just political pressure," Rowhani said Monday.
A leading Iranian resistance movement, meanwhile, said Tuesday it would organize a protest in Vienna to coincide with Wednesday's resumption of talks.
The Paris-based National Council of Resistance of Iran objected to phrasing in the European offer that the EU would continue to view one of the resistance group's key factions, the Mujahedeen Khalq, as a terrorist organization.
The Mujahedeen Khalq, which seeks to topple Iran's ruling Islamic establishment by force, also is on the U.S. State Department's list of terrorist organizations.
In a statement Tuesday, the council said several hundred Iranians living in Austria would rally in downtown Vienna on Wednesday to "warn against the continuation of appeasing the mullahs, which has only emboldened them in their drive to acquire nuclear weapons."