World powers press Iran on nuclear issues during talks

Delegates from 6 nations urge Tehran to diffuse fears that its nuclear program could be used to manufacture weapons

Published December 6, 2010 8:19PM (EST)

Six world powers held their first talks with Iran in more than a year Monday, pressing Tehran to focus on the need to diffuse fears that its nuclear activities could be harnessed to make weapons.

Delegates from Iran, the U.S., Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany met at a conference center in Geneva, with talks beginning after European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton escorted Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief negotiator, into the session.

Tehran says it does not want atomic arms and insists its nuclear program is only designed to provide more power for its growing population. Yet as Iran builds up its capacity to make such weapons, neither Israel nor the U.S. have ruled out military action if Tehran fails to heed U.N. Security Council demands that it freeze key nuclear programs.

"About 75 percent" of Monday's three-hour morning session was devoted to nuclear issues, said one official close to the talks. That was significant, because the Islamic Republic had come to the table insisting that the negotiations address Iran's nuclear program only peripherally -- if at all.

Monday's afternoon talks ran 90 minutes past schedule. Jalili, the first to emerge, smiled at reporters but said nothing. Officials said a second round of talks would be held Tuesday as scheduled.

The official said another round of discussions in the new year was possible if the six powers were confident that Tehran was ready to talk seriously about international demands it meet U.N. Security Council demands to curb uranium enrichment.

Specific sensitive points brought up Monday included a renewed call by the world powers for an end to enrichment -- an activity that the Islamic Republic says is not up for discussion, said the official, who asked for anonymity in exchange for discussing the confidential negotiations.

Publicly Iran continued to insist that enrichment and related programs were not on the agenda.

"We can't put them up for negotiation," Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said in Athens. "When all the countries say that they recognize Iran's right to develop peaceful nuclear technology, there is no room for such questions."

Ashton and senior officials from the six powers told Iran that doubts about the peaceful nature of its nuclear program were causing instability in the region, the official said.

Jalili spoke about other themes, including mentioning last week's assassination of an Iranian nuclear scientist and the wounding of an associate, the official said.

Iran says Majid Shahriar, the scientist killed in the bombing, was involved in a major project with Iran's nuclear agency. The wounded scientist, Fereidoun Abbasi, is suspected by the U.N. of links to secret nuclear activities. Iran has accused the West and Israel of being behind the assault.

Iran's semi-official Fars news agency said the six powers had no clear agenda and were suffering from internal rifts.

The official, in contrast, described the six as remarkably united in their ultimate goal -- persuading Tehran to give up enrichment in exchange for technological and economic rewards.

Meir Javedanfar, an Iranian-born expert on Iran who now lives in Israel, described the talks as serving both sides without either expecting a breakthrough.

"The Iranians are doing it for domestic cohesion between the conservative faction, which has been badly polarized," he said. "(It also) improves (Iran's) image and standing with its allies in Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq by portraying it as a regional superpower who can bring the five major powers of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany to the table."

He called the talks "very useful" for the West because they allowed President Barack Obama "to impose the toughest sanctions against Iran to date and to isolate Iran in an unprecedented manner."

Nations have a right to enrich uranium domestically and Iran insists it is doing so only to make fuel and not to make fissile warhead material. But international concerns are strong because Tehran developed its enrichment program clandestinely and because it refuses to cooperate with an IAEA probe following up suspicions that it experimented with a nuclear weapons program -- something Iran denies.

Bilateral sessions filled up much of Monday's afternoon talks, but officials refused to say whether they included one between Jalili and U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns and their delegations.

But, underlining its commitment to enrichment, Iran on Sunday announced it had delivered its first domestically mined raw uranium to a processing facility.

Ali Akbar Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and the country's vice president, said Iran had for the first time delivered domestically mined raw uranium to a processing facility -- allowing it to bypass U.N. sanctions prohibiting import of the material.

Salehi said Iran was now self-sufficient over the entire nuclear fuel cycle -- from extracting uranium ore to enriching it and producing nuclear fuel.

Since Iran's clandestine enrichment program was discovered eight years ago, Iran has resisted both rewards and four sets of increasingly harsh U.N. sanctions meant to force it to freeze its enrichment program.

Israel has threatened to attack Iran, even though Israel is believed to have stockpiled more than 200 nuclear weapons and it is not a member of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said it was up to Iran to restore trust about its nuclear intentions, urging it to come to Geneva prepared to "firmly, conclusively reject the pursuit of nuclear weapons."

But for Iran, the main issues are peace, prosperity -- and nuclear topics only in the context of global disarmament.

"Iran has not and will not allow anybody in the talks to withdraw one iota of the rights of the Iranian nation," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said beforehand.


Frank Jordans in Geneva, Ali Akbar Dareini in Tehran, Iran, Joe Federamn in Jerusalem, and Elena Becatoros in Athens contributed to this story.

By George Jahn

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