Iran Nuclear News Iranian and Europe envoy open talks on uranium enrichment

Iranian and Europe envoy open talks on uranium enrichment

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International Herald Tribune: The European Union’s foreign policy chief and Iran’s senior nuclear negotiator met Wednesday night in an effort to resolve the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program. International Herald Tribune

By JUDY DEMPSEY

Published: September 28, 2006

BERLIN, Sept. 27 — The European Union’s foreign policy chief and Iran’s senior nuclear negotiator met Wednesday night in an effort to resolve the dispute over Iran’s nuclear program.

The talks, at a government villa just outside Berlin, were arranged Tuesday after the Iranian representative, Ali Larijani, had twice postponed meetings with Javier Solana, the European foreign policy official.

The meeting was first to have been held in Brussels and then last week on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York.

The talks adjourned late Wednesday evening and were to resume Thursday morning.

“These talks in Berlin are very important,” said a European Union diplomat who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks are in process. “At stake is how both sides might agree to restart formal negotiations in return for Iran suspending its uranium enrichment program.”

Iran has repeatedly declared that its enrichment programs are for civilian use and that it has a right to develop such a nuclear capacity. But the United States and Europe fear that the enrichment activity is part of a nuclear weapons program.

The five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council — the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China — and Germany have been negotiating with Iran over its nuclear program.

Only hours before the talks began on Wednesday, the Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, said Tehran would “not back down” from its position on enrichment.

The six nations in June offered Iran a package of political and economic incentives on the condition that it suspend its uranium enrichment program. The Security Council has passed a resolution saying it will proceed toward sanctions if Iran does not suspend enrichment.

Mr. Solana has been trying for weeks to seek clarifications from Mr. Larijani over if, how and when Iran would suspend uranium enrichment. In return, the six countries would be prepared to start a new round of formal negotiations.

The Iranians started to negotiate on the incentives package only three weeks ago, when Mr. Solana and Mr. Larijani met in Vienna, according to diplomats, who said the issues involved have been clarified.

“There are two issues at stake,” said a Western diplomat familiar with the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity under diplomatic rules. “One is verification, meaning that if Iran suspends its program, it must allow full verification by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, to verify that suspension. These talks are a nonstarter without a watertight verification regime.”

The second issue is what diplomats called the “sequencing.” The Western diplomat said Mr. Solana was aiming to obtain from Iran a firm timetable for when and how suspension might take place and when the formal negotiations would start.

These two issues dominated talks held in Paris on Monday and Tuesday between Robert Cooper, a top European Union diplomat and adviser to Mr. Solana, and Javad Vaidi, deputy secretary general of Iran’s National Security Council.

It is unclear if Britain, France and Germany, which had been taking the lead in the incentives offer, are prepared to start preliminary formal negotiations before Iran starts suspending its enrichment program.

France hinted this month that it might be prepared to adopt this stance.

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