Iran holds tough line as talks resume

Iran holds tough line as talks resumeBy Mark Heinrich
VIENNA (Reuters) –     Iran reaffirmed its determination to pursue a fully-fledged nuclear programme on Wednesday as the top three European powers reopened dialogue with Tehran over concerns that it is secretly trying to make atomic bombs.
Confrontation rather than compromise has been brewing after declarations from Iran that the Holocaust is a myth and     Israel should be wiped out, and a     European Union accusation on Tuesday that Tehran has systematically violated human rights at home.

Iranian delegate Mohammad Mehdi Akhonzadeh said after a morning session of talks — the first face-to-face meeting of the sides in four months — that the atmosphere was "good."

"We expressed our views and came to know each other. It’s too early to talk about results. We’ll know more after the second session this afternoon," he said outside the French embassy in Vienna where the meeting took place.

The Iranian and French, German and British envoys were to reconvene at Iran’s mission to the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog, the     International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

EU officials had no immediate comment on the talks. They said earlier the likely outcome would be a decision, taken back in EU capitals, on whether to meet again in January.

The Islamic republic’s increasingly vocal hostility toward the Jewish state and commitment to developing sensitive technology that could yield ingredients for nuclear weaponry have stoked Western concern about its atomic ambitions.

Tehran says it aims only to generate more electricity for an energy-hungry economy. But it dodged U.N. nuclear inspectors for 18 years until 2003 and the West says its cooperation since has fallen short of what is needed to regain diplomatic confidence.

EU officials said Wednesday’s meeting would be "talks about talks" — exploring whether any basis exists for renewed negotiations. The EU3 froze the talks in August.

"We won’t reopen negotiations, we will only listen to what the Iranians have to say, especially about research and development," said an EU3 diplomat, alluding to centrifuge machines capable of enriching uranium to arms-grade level.

"We will see whether what they say to us in private is any different from what they have been declaring in public, to see if there is wiggle room for resuming negotiations."


Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki gave the West little ground for hope. He said Tehran aimed to establish a timetable for re-launching uranium enrichment, which it suspended under a 2003 agreement with the EU trio.

"We don’t want talks just for the sake of talks," he told reporters in Tehran on Wednesday.

Tehran’s unswerving rejection of compromise proposals to have its uranium purified by others abroad, to minimize chances of it grasping the complex technology needed to make bombs, has depressed prospects for a diplomatic solution.

"When we talk about (wanting) nuclear technology it means that enrichment to produce fuel for our reactors should be done inside Iran and it means having the complete nuclear fuel cycle," Mottaki said.

He added that Iran would not again suspend uranium ore processing at its Isfahan plant, the resumption of which in August led to the breakdown of the EU-Iran talks, and intended to restart preliminary work on enrichment technology.

"Isfahan is a done deal," he said. "The research and building parts for (enrichment) centrifuges is not the same as enriching uranium. When the time comes we will announce the resumption of these activities," he added.

Western diplomats said recent public statements by Iranian officials gave scant cause for optimism.

"The problem is, Iran’s hardliners were encouraged to believe they could inch forward toward enrichment when they managed to restart uranium processing without provoking a referral to the     U.N. Security Council," one diplomat said.

U.S.-EU moves to send Iran’s case to the Security Council for possible sanctions have stumbled on resistance by Russia, China and developing nations on the board of the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The IAEA board opted in November to put off any referral to give time for promoting an EU-backed proposal for Russia to enrich Iran’s uranium under a joint venture.

But Tehran has rebuffed the idea and interest in it seems to have waned in Moscow, which has major energy and arms links with Iran, including a $1 billion nuclear reactor under construction and a $1 billion package of missiles and other hardware.

Some analysts believe that if dialogue runs aground again, the way would be cleared to an emergency IAEA board session and vote to put Iran in Security Council hands. But Russia and China could veto sanctions as permanent powers on the Council.