Stakes high as Iran, US face off at six-nation nuclear talks
Delegations from Iran (photo) and six world powers, including the US, are meeting in Geneva Thursday for critical nuclear talks amid heightened tensions following Tehran’s revelation of a second uranium enrichment site last week.
Six world powers held nuclear talks with Iran on Thursday in Switzerland amid increased tensions over the disclosure of a second uranium enrichment plant and Iran’s recent missile tests.
A spokesperson for EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the atmosphere at the talks was "cordial and businesslike".
The first part of the meeting between Iran's nuclear negotiator and officials from the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany lasted three hours, AFP reported quoting a diplomat.
"We will look at how the day progresses, if the meeting continues or not... that would depend on how it goes in the morning and lunch," the source said.
Senior officials from the US, France, Britain, Germany, China and Russia were expected to push Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, to accept a “freeze for freeze” plan in order to prevent any militarisation of Iran’s nuclear programme. Doubts remained, however, over the Iranian negotiator’s willingness to talk about the second enrichment facility at Qom, which the United States, Britain and France revealed last week.
Maurin Picard, a FRANCE 24 correspondent in Geneva, says the six powers are back with the same plan: “Iran will have to freeze all enrichment-related activities to obtain in return a freeze of economic sanctions imposed by the UN security council over the last two years”.
This proposition is likely to be a no-starter for Iranians, who are adamant that enriching uranium is their national sovereign right. Iran has always claimed its nuclear programme is peaceful, defying five UN Security Council resolutions that demand it suspend all sensitive nuclear activities.
But Tehran’s repeated attempts to dissimulate the scale of its enrichment facilities have led to widespread doubts about the ultimate purpose of Iran’s nuclear programme. Iran is allegedly operating thousands of centrifuges in its enriching facilities in Natanz and Qom.
Western powers have said they are ready to impose new sanctions on Iran should the talks fail to make any progress.
Speaking to a Moscow radio, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner sounded hopeful that sanctions could be avoided: “I am not a fanatic of sanctions against the people (of Iran). Sometimes they are useful but we are not talking about the sanctions in Geneva so far”.
Analysts contacted by FRANCE 24 have questioned the effectiveness of economic sanctions against Iran, saying these should not undermine domestic opposition to the Iranian leadership.
“Since the June 12 presidential election, we have a new situation. The survival of the regime is at stake and we should not hurt the very people who are protesting against Iran’s current leaders”, said Michel Taubman, a French political analyst and author of “A Secret History of the Iranian Revolution”.
The Geneva talks could lead to the first high-level bilateral meeting between the US and Iran since the Obama administration vowed to improve ties between the two countries.
US officials said the head of the US delegation, Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, was not actively seeking a one-on-one meeting with Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, though he would not reject one if the opportunity arose.
The administration of former President George W. Bush reluctantly began to take part in multilateral talks with Iran only towards the end of his presidency.
According to Ardavan Amir Alami, an international lawyer, the new administration in Washington is ready to “scale down” its ambitions by accepting a bilateral dialogue with the Iranians without pre-conditions.
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