AFP: Informal Iran-EU talks to rescue an agreement on a promised Iranian freeze of key nuclear fuel-making activities broke off Saturday, opening the door to possible UN sanctions against Tehran, diplomats said. “We have no progress. It is up to the Iranians now to ponder what they will do,” a European diplomat close to the talks told AFP. “They have a very serious decision to make.”. AFP
by Michael Adler
VIENNA – Informal Iran-EU talks to rescue an agreement on a promised Iranian freeze of key nuclear fuel-making activities broke off Saturday, opening the door to possible UN sanctions against Tehran, diplomats said.
“We have no progress. It is up to the Iranians now to ponder what they will do,” a European diplomat close to the talks told AFP. “They have a very serious decision to make.”.
“If there is not soon a verification of full suspension (of uranium enrichment by Iran), then we’ll be in a different ballgame from then on,” he added.
Diplomats said this could mean that the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) 35-nation board of governors would fail to pass a resolution based on the suspension when it resumes meeting in Vienna Monday.
The suspension was intended to show Iran’s good faith in the face of US acccusations that Tehran is secretly developing nuclear weapons.
This would set the stage for movement towards a tougher resolution, one closer to the US call for Iran to be referred to the UN Security Council for possible economic sanctions as Washington accuses Iran of having hidden sensitive nuclear activities for almost two decades.
Iran and EU negotiators Britain, France and Germany had been conferring in Vienna and in their respective capitals to save an agreement on freezing uranium enrichment, struck in Paris on November 7.
The deal was to have been finalized and verified by the IAEA, the UN nuclear watchdog, in time for a meeting in Vienna which began Thursday.
The two-day meeting of the 35-nation IAEA board of governors was extended until Monday after Iran said that despite the freeze it would continue research with 20 centrifuges, the machines used to enrich uranium to make nuclear fuel but also what can be the raw material for atomic weapons.
The European trio categorically rejected any modification of what was supposed to be a total halt in enrichment and all related activites.
A diplomat close to the talks said the European trio had in fact given Iran until only Sunday to agree to put the 20 centrifuges back into the freeze or “they would table a much different resolution on Monday.”
The diplomat said the Europeans were furious after Iran told them it would yield on the centrifuges if a clause were dropped from the resolution that held Iran accountable. The clause says IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei should “report without delay to the board should the agency find that the suspension is not fully sustained.”
Such a trade-off is “blackmail,” another diplomat said.
Diplomats said the the IAEA board might adjourn its proceedings without a resolution.
But a US diplomat said this would be unacceptable to the United States since it had been backing the European trio’s conciliation effort with the idea of settling the issue at the current board meeting.
“We want this settled here and now and that was what the Europeans sold us on,” the US diplomat said.
The diplomat said the breakoff in the talks “seems to reinforce our view that we were right to be sceptical” about Iran meeting its promise to fully suspend key nuclear fuel activities.
“I think the Iranians have miscalculated on how far they can push the Europeans,” the US diplomat said.
Iran had struck a deal with the European trio in October 2003 to suspend Iranian enrichment but bickering immediately followed over whether making centrifuges as well as other activities, or just enrichment itself, was covered.
Iran was sending mixed signals after the IAEA conference talks stalled Friday.
Tehran’s nuclear negotiator in Vienna Hossein Moussavian said a final deal could be reached since “the last suggestion by the Europeans is very close to what Iran wants.”
But Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharazi said in Tehran that Iran’s request for the centrifuges to be exempted from the agreement “has never been a problem,” while another official denied speculation that Iran was prepared to drop the request.