Talks in Vienna on the European proposal ended without agreement, but Britain and Iran said the talks had been constructive. Reuters
By Francois Murphy
VIENNA - France, Britain and Germany failed to reach a deal with Iran on Wednesday under which Tehran would scrap its uranium enrichment program in exchange for nuclear power technology, but the two sides agreed to meet again.
Talks in Vienna on the European proposal ended without agreement, but Britain and Iran said the talks had been constructive.
"Some progress was made toward identifying the elements of a common approach to the issues and the two sides agreed to meet again shortly," a British Foreign Office spokesman told Reuters in London after Wednesday's talks.
If Iran rejects the offer, diplomats say most European nations will back U.S. demands that Tehran be reported to the U.N. Security Council for possible sanctions when the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog meets in November.
Sirus Naseri, a member of Iran's delegation in Vienna, said there was no breakthrough but it would have been premature to expect one at this point.
"We are at the bottom of the first inning. We are at the beginning (of the negotiation process)," he told Reuters.
"We are both trying to make an effort to make the best use of the time so that we have an agreement, if possible, by the board meeting (on Nov. 25)," Naseri said.
"We will meet again next week," he added.
French, German and British officials first put their proposal to Iranian negotiators in Vienna last week.
The United States accuses oil and gas-rich Iran of trying to make an atomic bomb behind the veil of a civilian nuclear program. Tehran says it only wants to produce electricity.
Iran has said it is not prepared to abandon uranium enrichment -- a process that can be used to make fuel for nuclear reactors or material for atom bombs.
But Iranian officials have indicated that Tehran may agree to an indefinite freeze on activities linked to uranium enrichment.
"Regarding the suspension (of uranium enrichment) as a confidence-building measure, we have not given our final answer yet," Hossein Mousavian, one of Iran's top nuclear negotiators, told Reuters.
CONCERN IRAN MAY BE STALLING
Once such a suspension is verifiably in place, the EU trio has pledged to negotiate a full solution, which could include help with Iran's civilian nuclear technology and a trade deal in return for scrapping nuclear fuel cycle activities for good.
One European diplomat said there was concern Iran may agree to freeze enrichment and then drag out talks to buy time and ease political pressure as it did in a similar 2003 deal.
Iran agreed last year to temporarily halt all uranium enrichment activities and signed up to snap inspections of its nuclear facilities in a bid to counter U.S.-led charges.
Tehran's suspension of enrichment has remained in place but it has resumed making and assembling centrifuges, the machines that enrich uranium. It has also said it plans to convert 37 tons of raw uranium into the feed material for centrifuges.
The IAEA, at its last board meeting in September, called on Iran to halt all such activities.
Hardline Iranian lawmakers, who control a majority in Iran's parliament, introduced a bill on Tuesday that would oblige the government to resume enrichment and halt snap inspections.
Government officials have said they would have no choice but to obey such a bill if enacted but diplomats said Iran was using it as a bargaining tool ahead of Wednesday's talks.
The National Council of Resistance of Iran (NCRI) -- the political wing of the exiled People's Mujahideen Organization (MKO) -- was angered by the document outlining the EU offer which said the EU would "continue to regard the MKO as a terrorist organization" if Iran complied with the terms.
Several dozens NCRI supporters protested against the EU offer in Vienna.