Middle East

Iran compromises on nuclear talks

Updated: 2007-05-09 06:37
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VIENNA, Austria - Iran agreed Tuesday to a compromise on the agenda text of a global conference called to consider ways to strengthen the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, taking a surprise turn under pressure from allies to end a weeklong deadlock preventing talks.

Tehran's decision saved the meeting from a likely collapse, allowing delegations to move on to their main purpose — beginning to lay the ground work for a 2010 conference that is to review and possibly revise the pact to make it more effective in curbing the spread of nuclear arms.

The current meeting has no decision-making powers. But its failure would have damaged chances for progress in further preparatory sessions by putting into question the ability of nations to reach consensus decisions — the usual procedure for such treaties.

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The conference had been snarled since its start April 30 by Tehran's objection to a phrase in the agenda citing the "need for full compliance with" the Nonproliferation Treaty.

Diplomats said Iran felt that wording would allow it to be targeted for defying U.N. Security Council demands for Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment, a process that can produce both fuel for electricity-generating nuclear reactors and material for atomic warheads.

The South African proposal accepted Tuesday will footnote the phrase to reflect that all aspects of the treaty must be fully observed — an allusion to the need for the United States and other nuclear weapons states to disarm.

Iranian chief delegate Ali Ashgar Soltanieh spoke of the "flexibility of my delegation" in accepting the compromise.

But the decision appeared driven by the frustration over the deadlock expressed by nations that often support Iran in its nuclear dispute. Before Iran's announcement, delegates evoked memories of the 2005 Nonproliferation Treaty review conference that failed to make substantive progress because of similar bickering over procedural issues.

The U.S. delegation said the delay had been unnecessary because it was clear all along that the phrase "full compliance" meant acceptance of all treaty provisions.

"It's been disappointing that, as a result of Iranian obstruction of procedure, it has taken so long to get to the point of beginning substantive discussion," chief U.S. delegate Christopher A. Ford told reporters.

Iran argues it is entitled to enrich uranium under a Nonproliferation Treaty provision giving all pact members the right to develop peaceful nuclear programs. But suspicions bred by Iran's nearly two decades of clandestine atomic activities, including black-market acquisitions of equipment and blueprints that appear linked to weapons plans, led the Security Council to impose sanctions over Tehran's refusal to halt enrichment.

Diplomats said senior officials from the United States and five other world powers would meet in Germany's capital this week to discuss ways to deal with Iran's continued defiance of the council.

The diplomats said Deputy Secretary of State Nicholas Burns would be joined in Berlin on Thursday by counterparts from Russia, China, Britain, France — the other Security Council's other veto-empowered permanent members — as well as Germany and a European Union representative.

The Nonproliferation Treaty requires signatory nations not to pursue nuclear weapons in exchange for a commitment by the five nuclear powers — the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and China — to move toward nuclear disarmament.

India and Pakistan, known nuclear weapons states, remain outside the treaty as does Israel, which is considered to have such arms but has not acknowledged that.