EU rejected Iranian offer on atom crisis: diplomats
Updated: 2006-03-05 16:23
During crisis talks with EU powers over its nuclear activities, Iran offered a two-year moratorium on industrial-scale nuclear fuel enrichment while continuing its nuclear research, diplomats said.
French Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy, Iran's top negotiator on issues of national security Ali Larijani and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana (L-R) pose for photographers in the German residence in Vienna March 3, 2006. [Reuters]
But EU diplomats rejected the offer saying it would not allay concerns that Tehran secretly wants to build atomic bombs. One European diplomat familiar with the talks said the EU had demanded up to a 10-year moratorium, which Iran rejected.
"Larijani's offer was no basis for a compromise," one diplomat said, referring to the chief Iranian negotiator, Ali Larijani. "The offer made no sense to us."
The failure of Friday's Vienna encounter between Iran and foreign ministers and diplomats from Germany, France and Britain paves the way for possible UN Security Council action against Iran after the UN nuclear watchdog, the IAEA, meets next week.
EU leaders said Larijani offered nothing that could underpin a solution to the crisis, but that he displayed a more conciliatory, constructive tone than the defiance of the past.
Larijani, in an interview with Austrian newspaper Kurier due to be published on Sunday, brushed aside the failure of the talks with the Europeans, and indicated that ultimately what mattered was how the United States negotiated with Iran.
He also criticized Washington, saying it had shown double standards by signing trade deals with nuclear power India in recent days, while refusing to treat with Iran.
"One land builds atomic bombs and the USA signs contracts with it, and the other wants nuclear energy for peaceful purposes. Anarchy reigns in international law," Larijani said.
In their talks, EU3 diplomats said Larijani offered the two-year moratorium on efforts to establish commercial-scale production of enriched uranium, the fuel for civilian nuclear power reactors or, if purified to a high level, weapons.
He further said Iran would again permit short-notice inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency that it barred in retaliation for a February 4 vote of the IAEA's governing board to report Tehran to the Security Council.
An Iranian diplomat close to the talks said there was "a high possibility to reach an agreement with the EU3" based on Larijani's overture, three days before the IAEA board convenes in a likely precursor to Security Council involvement.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, speaking on a trip to Pakistan, said that even if the IAEA reported Iran to the Security Council, sanctions against the Islamic Republic were unlikely to be the first step in dealing with the crisis.
In their talks, EU diplomats noted that Iran planned to start installing 3,000 centrifuges later this year.
About 1,500 centrifuges running optimally and non-stop for a year could yield enough highly enriched uranium for an atomic bomb, nuclear scientists say.
"Their insistence on R&D seems to encompass the 3,000 centrifuges. So this was no basis for compromise as far as we could see," said one EU3 diplomat.
Iran, which says it wants only nuclear-generated electricity for an expanding economy but hid fuel research from the IAEA for 18 years and publicly calls for Israel's destruction, eventually wants to bring 50,000 centrifuges on line.
French, British and German leaders repeated to Larijani the gist of the IAEA board's February 4 resolution -- Iran must shelve enrichment-related work to overcome international mistrust and spawn fresh negotiations on trade incentives.
These could revolve around Russia's offer to enrich uranium for Iranian civilian reactors under a joint venture to prevent possible siphoning into bomb production on Iranian soil.
Iran insists on a sovereign right to peaceful nuclear know-how like other countries party to the Non-Proliferation Treaty. Iranians officials have warned that any Council step to impose sanctions on Iran could drive it out of the NPT.
IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei has warned Western officials pushing for Security Council intervention that the world may have to live with small-scale enrichment activity in Iran under any future deal, officials close to the agency say.
Russia and China, both veto-wielding permanent powers on the Council and with heavy investments in Iran, reject isolating Tehran with sanctions as mooted by the United States