The meeting was the latest step in a diplomatic initiative that began in October 2003 when Iran first promised to suspend all work linked to the enrichment of uranium, a process of
purifying uranium for use as fuel in power plants or bombs.
By Louis Charbonneau
PARIS - The European Union's three biggest powers were holding talks with Iran on Wednesday to try to persuade it to abandon nuclear enrichment technology that could be used to make weapons.
The meeting was the latest step in a diplomatic initiative that began in October 2003 when Iran first promised to suspend all work linked to the enrichment of uranium, a process of purifying uranium for use as fuel in power plants or bombs.
This initiative collapsed early last year but was revived in December. Negotiators on both sides in Wednesday's talks -- senior officials a few notches below ministerial level -- said they expected tough negotiations as both parties had adopted hard positions.
"We both have our entrenched positions," one European diplomat close to the talks said. "With the Americans on board, the EU three couldn't move if they wanted to."
Sharing U.S. suspicions that Tehran may be planning to develop nuclear arms, France, Britain and Germany are offering Iran political and economic incentives to terminate and dismantle its uranium enrichment programme as an "objective guarantee" that it is not a front to develop an atomic bomb.
Tehran refuses to give up the programme and has offered to permit increased inspections by the U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and to limit its enrichment to levels far below the high levels of purity needed to fuel an atomic weapon.
An official involved in the closed-door talks described the discussions as "sensitive". He declined to give details.
The EU diplomats said they expected the talks to last one day. But Iranian officials, who also declined to be identified, said the negotiations could drag on for at least two days.
IRAN COMMITTED TO IAEA, NPT
Hossein Mousavian, a senior Iranian negotiator at the Paris talks, warned that Tehran would consider pulling out of the talks with the EU if it was not satisfied with progress.
But ending the talks would not mean an end to Iran's cooperation with the IAEA and its commitment to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), he told state television.
"Iran will continue its cooperation with the IAEA, transparently and based on the NPT, even if the talks with the EU trio do not reach a satisfactory conclusion," Mousavian said.
Tehran has suspended all activities linked to uranium enrichment as a confidence-building measure but has made it clear that it would eventually resume the programme.
Ali Aghamohammadi, head of Iran's Supreme National Security Council's Propaganda Office, told state radio there were signs the Europeans would strike a deal with Tehran but warned that Tehran would resume enrichment work if the talks collapsed.
"It seems that because of the European officials' and especially the French president's positive view, they will reach positive results," Aghamohammadi said. "If not, then with the termination of the talks we will resume (uranium) enrichment."
EU diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they expected no breakthroughs. They did not expect Iran to back down and said the EU was in no position to compromise because the United States had recently backed its position.
"The best that can come out of this meeting is an agreement to keep talking," a European diplomat close to the talks said.
He said Iran's acceptance of lower-level talks -- Tehran had at first wanted Wednesday's meeting to be held at foreign ministers' level -- was a clear sign they wanted to continue negotiations with the Europeans.