EU Warns Iran to Agree Nuclear Deal by Monday

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Reuters: France, Britain and Germany told Iran on Saturday if they had not reached a final agreement to freeze key parts of its atomic program by Monday, they would not stop moves to seek sanctions against Tehran, diplomats said. “The Iranians were told that if there’s no deal by Monday, they (the EU) would no longer block a referral to the U.N. Security Council when the (U.N. nuclear watchdog) reconvenes,” a Western diplomat told Reuters. Reuters

By Louis Charbonneau

VIENNA – France, Britain and Germany told Iran on Saturday if they had not reached a final agreement to freeze key parts of its atomic program by Monday, they would not stop moves to seek sanctions against Tehran, diplomats said.

“The Iranians were told that if there’s no deal by Monday, they (the EU) would no longer block a referral to the U.N. Security Council when the (U.N. nuclear watchdog) reconvenes,” a Western diplomat told Reuters. The Security Council has the power to impose economic sanctions.

But the diplomats said neither the EU trio nor Iran wanted the talks to collapse. They said it would be a big humiliation for the Europeans and could escalate the standoff over Tehran’s nuclear plans into an international crisis.

The United States, which has been pressing for Iran’s case to be referred to the Security Council, accuses Tehran of wanting to build a nuclear bomb. Iran, though oil-rich, says its program is aimed solely at generating electricity.

Last week, Iran promised the EU it would halt all activities related to uranium enrichment — a process that can create atomic fuel for power plants or weapons — in return for an EU pledge to neutralize the threat of economic sanctions.

The ink on the hard-won accord was barely dry, however, when Tehran demanded an exemption for some 20 enrichment centrifuges for research. European diplomats said this was impossible and could only deepen suspicions Tehran had a secret arms program.

On Friday, Western diplomats said Iranian negotiators had agreed to drop the demand, paving the way for a comprehensive deal with the EU on an International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) resolution that would make the voluntary freeze a binding commitment for Tehran.

But Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi appeared to revive the centrifuge demand on Saturday, telling reporters in Tehran the deal with the EU did not ban research and development involving centrifuges — the equipment used to enrich uranium.

“What we want is not against our previous agreement, it is a matter of research and development for which there is no prohibition,” he said.

Some Western diplomats in Vienna played down Kharrazi’s remarks, suggesting he may not have up-to-date information. But one said Iran may truly want to reserve the right to conduct research on a program it intended to freeze only briefly.

IRAN WANTS CHANGES

While Iranian negotiators are no longer insisting that they be allowed to run the 20 centrifuges, Western diplomats close to Saturday’s closed-door talks said Tehran wanted other things, including several additions to the EU draft resolution.

“They want some things in there that are a problem for the EU three,” a Western diplomat said, declining to give further details. “The deal could still fall apart.”

The EU trio has softened the resolution twice to accommodate Iran’s many demands and does not want talks on the text to drag on indefinitely, diplomats close to the talks said.

One problem is that the Europeans want the freeze, once implemented, to be transformed into a termination of Tehran’s enrichment program. In exchange, the EU is prepared to offer Iran a package of political and economic incentives.

But the Iranians reject a termination of the program, calling enrichment a “sovereign right” they will never abandon.

Western diplomats said the warning that Iran had agreed to a deal by Monday was an expression of their frustration with the talks, which one diplomat said were “going nowhere.”

The EU trio first sought the enrichment freeze in October 2003 to try to allay fears that Iran was using its nuclear energy program to develop bombs.

But that deal fell apart early this year when the Iranians resumed production of centrifuge components.