by Michael Adler
VIENNA - EU-Iranian nuclear talks to get Iran to suspend uranium enrichment in order to avoid possible UN sanctions have hit a snag, even as deadlines are beginning to fall in the crisis, diplomats told AFP Wednesday.
The deadlock, which one diplomat said had Europeans becoming pessimistic about finalizing an agreement, comes as the UN atomic agency is about to issue a report for a meeting that will decide whether to take the Iranian dossier to the United Nations on US charges that Tehran is secretly making nuclear weapons.
The Iranians contacted European diplomats in Tehran Wednesday asking for more concessions on a preliminary agreement the two sides had worked out in Paris last week, diplomats in Vienna and another Western capital told AFP.
But the European trio conducting talks for the EU -- Britain, France and Germany -- said "no, take it or leave it and Iran promised to give an answer" later Wednesday or Thursday, a diplomat who asked not to be identified said.
The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has told Iran it must respond this week in writing to the European deal if it wants its position included in a report for an IAEA meeting in Vienna on November 25.
This meeting will decide whether to take the Iranian dossier to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions, a diplomat close to the IAEA said.
Iran insists its nuclear program is a strictly peaceful one to generate electricity.
"The IAEA is under the obligation to issue its report in a time frame pretty much two weeks before the board meeting," the diplomat said. Thursday marks the two-week deadline before the meeting.
"The most important thing is this letter to ask the agency to verify suspension," a diplomat close to the negotiations said.
The diplomat said Iran was trying to get more assurances about a European offer to supply Iran with a light-water research reactor -- which would produce less fissible material than could be used for making nuclear weapons than a heavy-water reactor Iran wants to build -- if Iran cooperated in abandoning the nuclear fuel cycle.
"Iran has always said they want concrete incentives and not just promises," the diplomat said.
In Tehran, former president and top regime cleric Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani was quoted Wednesday saying Iran was at a "crucial point" in its stand-off with the UN atomic watchdog.
Another Iranian official, negotiator Sirous Nasseri, warned that Iran could continue pursuing its nuclear drive "underground" and quit the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that empowers the IAEA if it came under too much pressure.
A Western diplomat said Wednesday's devopments leave the European trio "increasingly pessimistic that a good deal can still be struck."
The main sticking points in the tentative agreement on getting Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment are over the length and extent of any halt, diplomats said.
Uranium conversion makes the uranium gas needed for the enrichment process which makes nuclear fuel, but which can also be the raw material for atomic bombs.
The 25-nation EU, led by Britain, France and Germany, says Iran must indefinitely and fully suspend uranium enrichment activities, but Iran insists its right to enrichment cannot be called into question.
Europe's three major powers are offering Iran nuclear technology, including access to nuclear fuel, increased trade and help with Tehran's regional security concerns if the Islamic republic halts enrichment, in an attempt to keep Iran from being taken to the Security Council.
Iran has agreed to suspend the making of the uranium hexafluoride gas (UF6) that is the actual feed for the enrichment process but "is not willing to suspend earlier stages," a diplomat said.
Over timing, "Iran is pushing for a time-specific duration, namely six months," but the European trio "refused and said the suspension must be maintained until a long-term agreement is reached," the diplomat said.