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Diplomats pessimistic ahead of Iran-EU nuclear talks
Updated: 2005-12-21 14:49

Iran and the European Union were to meet again with diplomats warning hopes were slim for getting Tehran to abandon making the nuclear fuel the West says could be used to manufacture atomic bombs.

The talks in Vienna Wednesday between foreign ministry officials from Britain, France and Germany and Iranian National Security Council official Javad Vaidi are the first contact between the two sides since talks broke off in August, when Iran resumed uranium conversion.

Conversion is the first step in making enriched uranium that can both be nuclear reactor fuel or the explosive core of nuclear weapons.

Tehran appears in no mood to stop this process, with the country's top nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, saying Monday that the discussions would have to focus on making sure the products of enrichment were not "diverted" for military purposes.

"The world has understood that the national will of Iran to enrich is serious," he said.

The tough stance comes at a time when Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has raised an international outcry through a series of statements against Israel, notably his remark in October that the Jewish state should be wiped off the map.

"It won't be easy," a diplomat from one of the so-called EU-3 states told AFP, saying the chances of getting Iran to guarantee it will not make nuclear weapons by agreeing to give up enrichment were "not very bright".

For their part, the Europeans were ready to be "realistic and distinguish between what is desirable and what is possible," the diplomat said, namely accepting some fuel cycle work but drawing the line at enrichment.

The meeting was scheduled to be largely "talks about talks", hopefully setting the stage for a resumption of formal EU-Iran negotiations on guaranteeing Tehran will not make nuclear weapons.

"The best that could happen at this meeting would be to agree on a second meeting," the diplomat said.

In contrast, the worst would be a breakdown that would likely spark a push by the Europeans and the United States to send the issue to the UN Security Council, which could impose sanctions against Iran.

Iran has vowed it will not back down from what it describes as its right under the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), the international agreement meant to stop the spread of nuclear weapons, to carry out enrichment as part of a peaceful drive to generate electricity.

Washington charges this civilian effort is a cover for developing atomic weapons.

The EU-3, backed by the United States, argue that Iran cannot be trusted to carry out enrichment since this process gives nations a "break-out capacity" to make nuclear weapons.

Gholam Reza Aghazadeh, the head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organisation, said in Tehran that his country would make new proposals in Vienna.

These could include Ahmadinejad's standing offer for foreign firms to be involved in enrichment on Iranian soil, a form of guarantee the work is for peaceful purposes.

Iran may also propose to be allowed to do research on centrifuges that carry out enrichment, without actually working with uranium.

The Europeans, however, have other ideas.

They want to push a Russian proposal that would allow Iran to conduct much of the fuel cycle at home while enriching its uranium only on Russian soil -- thus keeping the most sensitive nuclear work out of the country.

Iran has already rejected this proposal.

"The real diplomatic work at the moment is trying to bring the Russians on board so we can take this to the Security Council," an EU-3 diplomat said.

Russia, which has a veto on the Council and is building Iran's first nuclear power reactor, is almost certain to resist this pressure.

Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service said Monday that it was unaware of any attempt by Iran to develop nuclear weapons, Interfax news agency reported in Moscow.

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