AFP: The European Union and Iran begin talks Monday
towards giving Tehran trade, technology and security rewards for suspending crucial nuclear activities that could be used to make nuclear weapons. The process is fraught with difficulties since Iran says its suspension of uranium enrichment, a key step in making nuclear fuel, is a temporary measure designed to show its intentions are peaceful while EU negotiators ... AFP

BRUSSELS - The European Union and Iran begin talks Monday towards giving Tehran trade, technology and security rewards for suspending crucial nuclear activities that could be used to make nuclear weapons.

The process is fraught with difficulties since Iran says its suspension of uranium enrichment, a key step in making nuclear fuel, is a temporary measure designed to show its intentions are peaceful while EU negotiators Britain, France and Germany want the halt to become permanent, diplomats said.

Iran's top nuclear official Hassan Rowhani is to meet in Brussels Monday with the British, French and German foreign ministers in a steering committee conference on the sidelines of an EU ministerial gathering.

The meeting comes after the two sides hammered out an agreement in Paris on November 7 for Iran to suspend uranium enrichment, an agreement endorsed in Vienna on November 29 by the UN nuclear watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The IAEA has been investigating Iran's nuclear programme for almost two years on US charges, dnied by Tehran, that the Islamic republic is secretly developing nuclear weapons.

Iran said Sunday that it was not prepared to accept a permanent freeze of its controversial nuclear fuel enrichment work, which it claims it has the right to do under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

"The permanent suspension of enrichment is not on our agenda. A short-term freeze is what we are stressing," foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi said.

And Rowhani warned that the Islamic republic would abandon the talks, and the suspension, if no progress was being made.

The two sides will be negotiating a long-term accord that includes "objective guarantees" Iran will not develop the bomb.

In return, Iran will get incentives such as promises to help it join the World Trade Organization and to get a light water research reactor in return for Tehran abandoning plans to build a heavy water reactor that would be more capable of producing bomb-grade material.

The IAEA had on November 29 decided against referring Iran to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions after Tehran agreed with the three EU states to suspend its enrichment programme.

Iran accepted the deal amid US threats to send the matter to the Security Council in New York.

Uranium enrichment makes fuel for civilian nuclear reactors but in highly refined form that can be the explosive core of nuclear bombs.

A European source has said the Iranians requested the first meeting of the steering committee -- overseeing working groups and the agreement -- to be held at the ministerial level to give it "better visibility".

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana is also likely to attend Monday's session.

In a sign of continuing concern about Iran's intentions, diplomats said last week that the Islamic Republic was conducting secret high-energy neutron experiments that could be civilian-oriented or directed towards making nuclear weapons.

The diplomats told AFP in Vienna there was concern since the experiments are allegedly taking place under military supervision.

The IAEA is trying to look into claims from the United States and the main exiled Iranian opposition group that Iran is hiding nuclear weapons development at military facilities.

The experiments, carried out with a neutron generator, are thought to be taking place at an alleged base of Iran's elite Revolutionary Guards, near the Malek Ashtar Technology University in Tehran where a team of "six senior nuclear scientists and several research assistants" do calculations from the data, one diplomat close to intelligence sources said.

An expert close to the IAEA said the high-energy neutron experiments can have three applications: to study research reactors, to study fusion or to develop neutron reflectors to help trigger nuclear explosions.

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