Uranium talks 'off to good start' in Vienna
Iranian, Russian, French, and US officials met in Vienna Monday for talks on Iran's nuclear enrichment programme. UN nuclear watchdog chief Mohammed ElBaradei expressed optimism after the first day.
REUTERS - Iran said it would not hesitate to enrich uranium to a higher degree itself without a deal at talks with big powers that began on Monday with the West hoping to reduce the risk of Tehran developing nuclear arms capability.
The meeting of Iranian, Russian, French and U.S. officials started in Vienna shortly after state-run Iranian television said Tehran would not deal directly with France since it had failed to deliver “nuclear materials” in the past.
Iran’s sudden move could upset the talks, aimed at fleshing out a tentative deal for Iran to ship enriched uranium to Russia and France for more processing and return to Tehran to fuel a reactor that makes medical isotopes.
Other official Iranian media said another reason for Iran being unwilling to talk directly to France was alleged French interference with efforts of the U.N. nuclear watchdog and Iran to improve cooperation.
The Vienna meeting hosted by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) offered the first opportunity to build on proposals for defusing a protracted standoff over Iran’s nuclear activity raised at a high-level meeting in Geneva on Oct. 1.
A senior Iranian official denied reports that Iran was interested only in importing higher-enriched uranium. This would be difficult for Iran to do since U.N. sanctions ban trade in sensitive nuclear materials with Tehran.
Iran struck a defiant tone hours ahead of the meeting.
Nuclear energy agency spokesman Ali Shirzadian said it was not “economically feasible” for Iran to purify further low enriched uranium (LEU) itself to yield the 150-300 kg of material that it needs for the reactor, but it would do so if the Vienna talks “do not bring about Iran’s desired result”.
Iran won a reprieve from harsher U.N. sanctions by agreeing in Geneva to IAEA inspections of a hidden nuclear site and, in principle, to send LEU to Russia and France for processing to replenish the dwindling fuel reserves of the Tehran reactor.
But it sent only a lower-level technical delegation to the Vienna talks headed by its IAEA ambassador, not its nuclear energy agency chief, indicating it may not be ready for a final agreement this week.
Western officials said Iran tentatively agreed to major aspects of the proposal in Geneva. Tehran has denied this.
« The talks this week are supposed to seal the deal, » said a senior Western diplomat, speaking on ground rules of anonymity.
« But, since we have had no negotiations thus far with the Iranians, the next couple of days could reopen a lot of what we hoped was already agreed in principle. »
The talks on IAEA premises, which began with a closed-door address by agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei, could last from a few hours to three days, diplomats said.