Iran talks in Turkey focus on confidence building

Last Updated: Saturday, January 22, 2011 - 15:47

Istanbul: Six world powers on Saturday 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 program could also make fissile warhead material, because of its nuclear secrecy and also because the Islamic Republic refuses to cooperate 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 program, 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 program: global disarmament, Israel`s suspected nuclear arsenal, and Tehran`s concerns about US military bases in Iraq and elsewhere.

As talks resumed on Saturday, Iranian delegate Abolfazl Zohrevand said the atmosphere was "positive”.

"Both sides showed the willingness that a solution can be achieved to reach active cooperation on various issues," he said.

Diplomats from two other delegations familiar with the negotiations were less bullish. They said that the six — the US, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany — were trying a new tack after a frustrating 14-hour round 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 on Saturday about reviving an offer to exchange some of Iran`s enriched uranium for fuel rods for Tehran`s research reactor, said the diplomats.

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 realisation 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.

One of the diplomats 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. The diplomats asked for anonymity in exchange for discussing the closed meeting.

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.

Bureau Report




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