EU-Iran nuclear talks in Geneva court deadlock

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AFP: Iran has warned of the danger of deadlock in decisive talks over its controversial nuclear programme, as the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany prepare to meet in Geneva on Wednesday with Iran’s top negotiator Hassan Rowhani. “The negotiations are so far not entirely satisfactory, but I don’t think they have been negative either,” Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said in Tehran. AFP

By Siavosh Ghazi

GENEVA – Iran has warned of the danger of deadlock in decisive talks over its controversial nuclear programme, as the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany prepare to meet in Geneva on Wednesday with Iran’s top negotiator Hassan Rowhani.

“The negotiations are so far not entirely satisfactory, but I don’t think they have been negative either,” Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said in Tehran.

But one of the Iranian negotiators involved in a preparatory meeting of officials from the three EU countries and Iran in Brussels Tuesday warned that the meeting in Geneva appeared to be heading for deadlock.

“The talks between (Iranian and European) experts have been difficult and complicated, they haven’t been promising and if they go on like this, the risk of a deadlock in the negotiations Wednesday is high,” Ali Agha Mohammadi, one of the Iranian negotiators currently in Geneva, told AFP.

Khatami said the meeting was likely to be “final” in deciding whether the negotiating process with the EU-3 would end or continue.

The 25-nation EU has warned that it could refer Iran to the UN Security Council — and into Washington’s diplomatic line of fire — if the talks fail, amid suspicions that Tehran wants to build nuclear bombs.

“It is our only hope that the three European ministers who proposed this meeting will try to lead the negotiations out of this situation so we can make reasonable progress,” said Mohammadi.

The so-called EU-3, representing the full 25-member EU, called the talks after a series of recent threats from Tehran to resume key nuclear activities including an uranium enrichment capability.

That would be in breach of an accord to suspend the nuclear programme, which was reached in Paris last November.

“The chances of deadlock depend entirely on what the Iranians say about their intention to abide by the Paris agreement,” a spokesman for Britain’s Foreign Office told AFP.

Wednesday’s meeting at the Iranian ambassador’s residence in a leafy suburb of the western Swiss city, which will also involve EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana, was due to start at 2:00 pm (1200 GMT).

Britain’s Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, French foreign minister Michel Barnier, their German counterpart Joschka Fischer and Solana were due to meet separately beforehand in Geneva, the Foreign Office spokesman said.

Enriched uranium can be used both for civil or military purposes, depending on the level of enrichment. Tehran insists that its nuclear programme is only meant to provide an alternative source of energy.

The EU has been offering possible trade and other benefits to persuade Iran to curb its nuclear plans.

The United States, which has adopted a tougher stance, has nonetheless backed the European diplomatic thrust.

“The US supports the EU-3’s negotiating efforts to end Iran’s nuclear weapons ambitions. Iran must not be allowed to acquire a nuclear weapons capability,” US under secretary of state Nicholas Burns said.

“Iran has an obligation to demonstrate to the world it is not doing so.”

In a letter to Rowhani, calling for the talks, the EU-3 said that “Iran should be in no doubt that any such change to the suspension would be a clear breach of the Paris agreement”.

“It would bring the negotiating process to an end. The consequences beyond could only be negative for Iran,” added the letter, sent on May 13 and a copy of which was obtained by AFP.

According to the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Tehran is notably planning to partially resume activities at a plant in Ispahan, central Iran, followed by another site, Natanz.

In return Iran would pledge not to acquire nuclear arms and would authorize the permanent presence of IAEA inspectors at Ispahan and Natanz, according to documents obtained by the Carnegie Endowment and confirmed by Iranian sources.

The Iranians also want the EU to help them build nuclear reactors, and to guarantee them supplies of nuclear fuel for future reactors.