Troubled Iran nuke talks resume

Headway in the three-day meeting is slower than expected, says IAEA

The UN nuclear watchdog said headway in the three-day nuclear talks was slower than expected.

Western diplomats said the holdup was due to Iran’s hesitation to embrace details of a tentative deal struck in Geneva on October 1 to send a large amount of its low-enriched uranium (LEU) reserve to Russia and France for processing.

The multilateral talks, which began on Monday, stalled on Tuesday after Iran said it would not agree to curb uranium enrichment, something seen by the powers as essential to make any accord work, and warned France could not be part of a deal.

Wednesday’s meeting began at 0900 GMT with International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed El Baradei presiding, after a further holdup with US, French, Russian, and Iranian delegates consulting among themselves.

Western diplomats said the powers wanted Iran to ship out some 75 per cent of its LEU stockpile for more refinement and conversion into fuel rods before the end of the year, which would go back to Tehran to replenish dwindling fuel stocks of a reactor that makes isotopes for cancer care.

Any looser provisions would not establish enough confidence that Iran was genuinely committed to civilian nuclear energy.

Important deal

The diplomats said International ElBaradei told all parties behind closed doors during a brief reunion on Tuesday that such a deal was critical to defusing mistrust.
Iran’s response was vaguely positive but it was clear it had not made up its mind.
The negotiations offered the first chance to build on understandings struck in Geneva to defuse a long standoff over fears that Iran’s stockpiling of enriched uranium is a latent quest to develop atomic bombs, not fuel for electricity as it says.

“I believe we are making progress. It is maybe slower than I expected. But we are moving forward,” ElBaradei, who is presiding over the closed-door gathering, told reporters on Tuesday evening.

El Baradei said Tuesday was devoted to separate bilateral consultations involving Iran, France, Russia and the US and he believed a deal was still attainable but “difficult technical and confidence-building issues had yet to be settled”.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and other officials in Tehran accused France on Tuesday of reneging on contracts to deliver nuclear materials in the past and said Paris should be excluded from any deal.

The diplomats said a face-saving compromise was drafted by the IAEA. Under this, Iran would sign a contract withc which would then sub-contract further work to France.
The West hoped that farming out a large amount of Iran's LEU reserve for reprocessing into fuel for the medical isotope reactor — using technology Iran lacks — will minimise the risk of Iran refining the material to high purity suitable for bombs.

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