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Middle east

Negotiators struggle to break impasse at Turkey nuclear talks

Video by Carla WESTERHEIDE

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-01-22

EU diplomacy chief Catherine Ashton headed a delegation that travelled to Turkey in hope of reviving negotiations with Iran about its nuclear programme. However, a senior Iranian official said suspending uranium enrichment is not up for discussion.

AP - Iran and six world powers sought common ground Friday at talks jeopardized by Tehran’s refusal to discuss demands for curbs on nuclear activities that could enable it manufacture the fissile core of nuclear warheads.

As the two sides broke for lunch, with the Iranians dining separately, there was no sign of movement from either side from widely differing positions revealed after a first round of talks in Geneva last month.

While the six would like to kickstart talks focused at freezing Iran’s uranium enrichment program, Tehran has repeatedly said this activity is not up for discussion. Instead, Iranian officials are pushing an agenda that covers just about everything except its nuclear program: global disarmament, Israel’s suspected nuclear arsenal, and Tehran’s concerns about U.S. military bases in Iraq and elsewhere in the region.

“We want to discuss the fundamental problems of global politics at Istanbul talks,” said Iranian chief negotiator Saeed Jalili, while President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad suggested any push to restrict the meeting to Iran’s nuclear program would fail.

“They employed all their might and tried hard to prevent Iran from going nuclear,” Iranian state TV quoted Ahmadinejad as saying. “But Iran went nuclear and there will be no way back.”

A diplomat familiar with the talks says the six powers China, Britain, France, Russia, the United States, and Germany will seek to nudge Iran toward acknowledging the need to reduce worries that the Islamic Republic might turn its enrichment program to making weapons. He asked for anonymity because the talks are closed.

Tehran denies such aspirations, insisting it wants only to make nuclear fuel. But concerns have grown because its uranium enrichment program could also make fissile warhead material, because of its nuclear secrecy and also because it refuses to cooperate with attempts to investigate suspicions that it ran experiments related to making nuclear weapons.

Iran came to the table warning that it was in no mood to compromise.

“Resolutions, sanctions, threats, computer virus nor even a military attack will stop uranium enrichment in Iran,” Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency, told Iranian state TV.

He was alluding to U.N. sanctions imposed on Iran, apparent damage to the enrichment program due to the Stuxnet malware virus  thought to have been created by Israel or the U.S. and threats of possible military action by Israel and the U.S. if Iran remains defiant.

But British Foreign Secretary William Hague said the Iranians must “show in these negotiations that they are prepared to discuss the whole of their nuclear program.”

Ahead of the start of Friday’s session, the diplomat said EU Foreign Affairs chief Catherine Ashton, speaking on behalf of Iran’s six interlocutors, would urge the Iranian side in her opening address to recognize the need to discuss international concerns about Iran’s nuclear program.

Ashton, he said, would renew a 2008 offer providing Iran technical and logistical support for peaceful nuclear activities as well as trade and other incentives in exchange for its willingness to focus on its atomic program.

One development to watch for, he said, would be readiness by Iranian chief negotiator Saeed Jalili to meet U.S. counterpart William Burns in a bilateral meeting. While the Iranians met several delegations at the Geneva talks, they refused a U.S. overture to sit down one-on-one in the Swiss city.

Meeting the Iranians are the five permanent U.N. Security Council members  the U.S., Russia, China, Britain and France  plus Germany.

As a subset of the talks, discussions could be held on reviving an offer to exchange some of Iran’s enriched uranium for fuel rods for Tehran’s research reactor, said the diplomat.

First made in late 2009, that offer was supported by the six powers as a way of reducing Iran’s enriched stockpile, thereby potentially delaying its ability to manufacture a nuclear weapon. But it lapsed over Iranian conditions and later the realization by Tehran’s interlocutors that it no longer made sense to discuss shipping out the original amount as Iran continued adding to its enriched uranium trove.

The 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.

It could be conditioned on Iran stopping the manufacture of 20 percent enriched uranium. Separate from its main enrichment program which is churning out low-enriched uranium, Iran started enriching to 20 percent after the fuel exchange deal was stalled, saying it would use the material to manufacture its own fuel rods for the research reactor.

That heightened international concerns, because it takes much less time to turn 20-percent enriched material into use for weapons than low-enriched uranium.

The nuclear talks are being held in the Ciragan Palace, resplendent with marble fittings, balconies and chandeliers, along the Bosporus strait, which divides Istanbul between the Asian and European continents. Fire destroyed the former Ottoman palace in the early 20th century, but the building was restored two decades ago and part of the grounds were turned into a five-star hotel, where some delegates to the talks are staying.

Tehran is under four sets of U.N. Security Council sanctions for refusing to cease enrichment and other activities that could be used to make nuclear weapons.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Date created : 2011-01-21

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