Six world powers have sidestepped Iran’s refusal to discuss scrapping uranium enrichment, offering instead to revive smaller-scale talks in hopes they will lead to broader dialogue about Tehran’s nuclear activities.
Tehran denies that it wants nuclear arms, insisting it wants only to make peaceful nuclear energy for its rising population.
But concerns have grown because its uranium enrichment programme could also make fissile warhead material, because of its nuclear secrecy and also because the Islamic republic refuses to co-operate with UN attempts to investigate suspicions that it ran experiments related to making nuclear weapons.
While the six nations went into the first day of talks on Friday formally focused on freezing Iran’s uranium enrichment programme, Tehran has repeatedly said this activity is not up for discussion.
Instead, Iranian officials came to the table with an agenda that covered just about everything except its nuclear programme – global disarmament, Israel’s suspected nuclear arsenal, and Tehran’s concerns about US military bases in Iraq and elsewhere.
As talks resumed, Iranian delegate Abolfazl Zohrevand said the atmosphere was “positive”, telling reporters: “Both sides showed the willingness that a solution can be achieved to reach active cooperation on various issues.”
Diplomats from two other delegations familiar with the negotiations were less bullish, and said that the six – the US, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany – were trying a new tack after a frustrating 14-hour round on Friday that cast the two sides’ different positions into sharp relief.
One of the diplomats said that on Friday Iran tried and failed to impose conditions on further talks that would have included a lifting of UN sanctions and an end to six-power demands that Tehran give up uranium enrichment.
With Britain, Germany and China standing by, the US, Russia and France were talking with Iran today about reviving a 2009 offer to exchange some of Iran’s enriched uranium for fuel rods for Tehran’s research reactor. One diplomat said any agreement to explore reviving those talks should be seen only as a confidence-building measure and should not detract from the ultimate goal of curbing Iran’s enrichment activities.
Tehran is under four sets of UN Security Council sanctions for refusing to cease enrichment and other activities that could be used to make nuclear weapons, and Foreign Secretary William Hague said the Iranians must “show in these negotiations that they are prepared to discuss the whole of their nuclear programme”.