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12/06/10

Few Expectations As Iran Nuclear Talks Resume

By Robert Tait, RFE/RL

Iran and six major powers today began the first face-to-face talks over Tehran's suspect nuclear program in 14 months, with Iranian officials insisting they would not bow to demands to suspend uranium enrichment and Western diplomats dismissing chances of a breakthrough.

Officials met in the Swiss city of Geneva a day after Iran sent out a calculatedly defiant signal by announcing it had produced its own domestically mined uranium ore, known as yellowcake, for the first time.

The chief Iranian nuclear negotiator, Said Jalili, said on arrival that the success of the two-day talks "depends on the other party's attitude."

But Western diplomats lowered expectations, saying an agreement to meet again for more substantive talks in the new year would be viewed as a success.

"All I can tell you is that it's going to be very, very boring," Reuters quoted one senior European Union diplomat as saying.

Grim Backdrop

The six powers -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany -- are being led by the EU's foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton.

However, in a graphic sign of the grim backdrop, there was no guarantee that the Iranian delegation would even discuss Iran's uranium program, which the West suspects is aimed at producing an atomic bomb. Tehran insists it is for peaceful civilian energy purposes.

The UN Security Council earlier this year imposed a fourth round of sanctions against Iran over its refusal to suspend enrichment activities, while the United States and the EU have imposed unilateral measures.

In an effort to keep up the pressure on Tehran, the White House announced in advance of today's talks that President Barack Obama had discussed Iran in a telephone conversation with his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao. China, which has previously used its veto power to shield Iran from Security Council resolutions, voted in favor of last June's embargo.

However, Ali Akbar Salehi, Iran's nuclear energy chief, signaled on December 5 that Iran was determined to continue its nuclear work and hailed the production of yellowcake at a nuclear conversion plant in Isfahan as a sign that Western opposition had been overcome.

"The first consignment of yellowcake from our city [Bandar Abbas] was received today at the [Isfahan] nuclear site," Salehi said. "The Western countries anticipated that we would have trouble with our first intake."

'Program Going Forward'

In an interview with Iranian state television, he said the achievement meant Iran would be able to provide its own enriched uranium for a reactor at Tehran University.

"Be sure that this program is going forward, thank God," he said. "We wish with God's help, if our planning is going like before, next September we can import the first nuclear fuel to the Tehran reactor, which was...domestically produced."

Today's talks follow the assassination last week of a leading Iranian nuclear scientist, Majid Shahriari, and the wounding of another, Fereidun Abbasi, in attacks in Tehran. Iran's president, Mahmud Ahmadinejad, has blamed the attacks on the West and Israel.

Ahmadinejad last week heavily hinted that the nuclear program had been disrupted by the Stuxnet computer virus, which some analysts say has been designed deliberately to undermine the Islamic republic's uranium enrichment work. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the UN's nuclear watchdog, says Iran last month briefly suspended enrichment apparently because of unspecified technical problems.

Iran has also accused the IAEA of sending Western spies rather than inspectors to monitor the country's nuclear facilities.

written by Robert Tait, with agency reports


Copyright (c) 2010 RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036. www.rferl.org

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