US fires warning shot over Iran nuclear talks

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Financial Times: The US warned European ministers on Tuesday to stand firm in negotiations with Iran and reject any proposal that could allow the partial resumption of Tehran’s controversial nuclear programme.
The warning, given as the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the UK prepared to meet Iranian negotiators in Geneva on Wednesday, underlines the risk that the talks might break up or lead to increased transatlantic tension. Financial Times

The US warned European ministers on Tuesday to stand firm in negotiations with Iran and reject any proposal that could allow the partial resumption of Tehran’s controversial nuclear programme.

The warning, given as the foreign ministers of France, Germany and the UK prepared to meet Iranian negotiators in Geneva on Wednesday, underlines the risk that the talks might break up or lead to increased transatlantic tension.

“The support of the US [for the negotiations”> is based on the cessation and dismantlement of all sensitive nuclear . . . activities,” Nicholas Burns, US undersecretary of state, told the FT after a meeting with senior diplomats from the EU3 countries.

While the US suspects Iran of seeking to develop nuclear weapons, Tehran insists its programme is peaceful. “We believe that it’s imperative that Iran not engage in any aspect of nuclear fuel cycle activity, including conversion,” Mr Burns added.

“Conversion” – the production of uranium hexafluoride gas – is at the heart of today’s talks. It is an important initial step in the nuclear process, but one that is not enough to produce weapons grade material.

Iran’s latest suggestion would allow the Islamic republic to begin conversion work after a final deal, and ship the material to Russia for further processing.

Cyrus Nasseri, a senior Iranian negotiator, confirmed at the weekend that Iran was considering such a “Russian proposal”, but only as a temporary measure.

European diplomats in Tehran said the EU3 wanted to keep the process going until at least after Iran’s presidential election on June 17.

One European diplomat in Tehran warned that Europe was “not ready to explicitly accept the so-called Russian proposal”.

Indeed, some European officials believe it would be impossible to announce even that the EU was formally considering the proposal, in the light of US warnings that the process of conversion would give Iran access to too much technical and scientific knowledge.

Some western diplomats believe the best Europe can hope for today is not an agreement, but merely an undertaking to keep the talks going.

After preparatory talks in Brussels on Tuesday, Hossein Mousavian, an Iranian negotiator, said the chance for success in Wednesday’s meeting was “50-50”.

Mehdi Karrubi, a reformist candidate in the presidential election, said Iran should reassure those concerned about Iran’s nuclear programme but warned of “others, like the Americans and the Israelis, who were just seeking excuses to say we are terrorists”.

However, the International Institute for Strategic Studies, a leading British think-tank, said the talks “seem headed for inevitable failure” either before or after the Iranian elections.

“The Europeans appear determined that Iran end enrichment completely,” said John Chipman, IISS director.

“They are not tempted by Iran’s proposal that it be allowed to develop a limited enrichment capability under strict international inspection.”

He added that Iran could decide to observe the nuclear non-proliferation treaty (NPT) in an attempt to temper international reaction, slowly accumulating nuclear material and uranium enrichment capability for what he called a “quick break-out option” towards a nuclear bomb.

The IISS estimates Iran is several years from developing a weapon.

IISS experts predicted that this month’s conference in New York of the NPT would end without agreement.

* Iran’s Guardian Council reinstated two reformist candidates for next month’s presidential election on Tuesday, after it was instructed to review their cases by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s supreme leader. But neither Mostafa Moein nor Mohsen Mehrali-Zadeh confirmed they would run.