France says Iran "two-faced", skeptical talks can succeed

PARIS Wed Mar 7, 2012 12:46pm EST

Iran's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh adjust his headphones as he attends a board of governors meeting at the United Nations headquarters in Vienna March 5, 2012. REUTERS/Herwig Prammer

Iran's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh adjust his headphones as he attends a board of governors meeting at the United Nations headquarters in Vienna March 5, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Herwig Prammer

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PARIS (Reuters) - France voiced skepticism on Wednesday that a planned revival of talks between six world powers and Iran would succeed, saying Tehran still did not seem sincerely willing to negotiate on the future of its contested nuclear program.

The EU's foreign policy chief, who represents the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany in dealings with Iran, said on Tuesday they had accepted Iran's offer to return to talks after a standstill of a year that has seen a drift towards conflict in the oil-rich Gulf.

The talks could dampen what U.S. President Barack Obama has called a rising drumbeat of war, alluding to talk of last-resort Israeli attacks on Iran that he and many others worry would kindle a wider Middle East war and hammer the global economy.

French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe, however, raised doubt about what the talks could achieve. "I am a little skeptical ... I think Iran continues to be two-faced," Juppe told France's i-Tele television.

"That's why I think we have to continue to be extremely firm on sanctions (already imposed on Iran), which in my view are the best way to prevent a military option that would have unforeseeable consequences," he said.

Iranian officials in Tehran were unavailable for comment.

Iran has pledged to float "new initiatives" at the talks, whose venue and date must be decided, but has not committed itself explicitly to discussing ways of guaranteeing that its nuclear advances will be solely peaceful, as the West demands.

Previous talks have foundered over Iran's refusal to discuss what it deems its "inalienable" right to develop nuclear energy, and recent Iranian comments have not diverged from that line.

"With God's help Iran's nuclear course should continue firmly and seriously. No obstacles can stop our nuclear work," clerical Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last month.

ELECTION EFFECT

The widespread victory in last week's parliamentary election of Khamenei loyalists over backers of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has seemed more amenable to doing deals with the West, suggests Tehran's nuclear hard line will not soften soon, according to some Iranian commentators.

"This shows that Khamenei's stance on foreign affairs and the nuclear issue will be supported by all layers of the system," said analyst Babak Sadeghi.

For Iran's clerical establishment, defiance of "arrogant" Western power has a useful way to rally domestic support and distract attention from the country's economic difficulties, worsened by international sanctions.

"Any deal on nuclear enrichment will harm the prestige of Iranian leaders among their core supporters," said Sadeghi.

Iran denies suspicions that its program to enrich uranium is ultimately meant to yield material for atomic bombs, saying it is for peaceful energy only. But U.N. nuclear inspectors cite intelligence pointing to military dimensions to the program.

The year-long diplomatic vacuum has been filled by increasingly bellicose rhetoric, Western steps to isolate Iran with severe sanctions and Iranian threats to retaliate by shutting the Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf's oil export channel.

Increasing tensions have spurred a rise in oil prices at a time when many recession-hit countries can ill-afford it.

Western states will tread cautiously in talks, mindful of past accusations that Iran's readiness to meet has been a tactic to blunt pressure and buy time for pursuing enrichment in underground plants, not a good-faith effort to reach agreement.

The Islamic Republic made its diplomatic approach to the six powers at a time when it suffering unprecedented economic pain from sanctions recently extended to block its oil exports.

ISRAEL WELCOMES TALKS, BUT WARY

Israel is all but convinced that sanctions and diplomacy will not get Iran to rein in its nuclear drive and is speaking more stridently of resorting to military action.

The Jewish state on Wednesday cautiously welcomed the planned resumption of talks with Iran while insisting that any agreement must ensure Tehran does not refine uranium above the 5 percent level suitable for power plants.

"There will be no one happier than us, and the prime minister (Benjamin Netanyahu) said this in his own voice, if it emerges that in these talks Iran will give up on its military nuclear capability," the premier's national security adviser Yaakov Amidror told Israel Radio.

Iran is now enriching uranium to a higher fissile purity it says will be used to run a medical research reactor, but which also brings it much closer to the weapons-grade threshold.

Netanyahu has said Iran must dismantle a subterranean enrichment site near the city of Qom that experts say is designed to survive any air strikes, part of what Israel says is a "zone of immunity" being sought by Tehran.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was the first among leaders of the six powers to push for tighter sanctions on Iranian oil and finance. Sarkozy said in January that time was running out for efforts to avoid military intervention in Iran.

But Juppe signaled France was wary of resorting to force. "There is still a debate in Israel (about military action) and it's our responsibility to bring to Israel's attention the unforeseeable consequences it would have," he said.

Obama said on Tuesday the new talks with Iran offered a diplomatic chance to defuse the crisis and quiet the "drums of war," although his defense chief said Washington would resort to military action to stop Iran developing nuclear warheads if diplomacy was ultimately judged to be futile.

POWERS EYE IRAN MOVE AT UN NUCLEAR MEETING

In Vienna, the 35-nation board of the International Atomic Energy Agency adjourned its week-long meeting until Thursday to give the sextet of world powers more time to agree a joint statement on Iran, diplomats said.

Western diplomats insisted the time needed for further talks did not reflect serious differences, but was more a question of consulting capitals of the six powers. It was nothing that "we can't resolve," one envoy told Reuters.

The joint statement was expected to underline the importance of the powers' upcoming talks with Iran and urge Tehran to cooperate with the U.N. nuclear watchdog, after two rounds of largely fruitless meetings between the IAEA and Tehran this year, one diplomat said.

The United States and its Western allies had hoped the board would have agreed a resolution rebuking Iran for what they see as its failure to address the IAEA's perception of possible military aspects to the Islamic state's nuclear program, but Russia and China objected, several diplomats said.

(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Tehran, Fredrik Dahl in Vienna and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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Comments (22)
McBob08 wrote:
There still remains absolutely no evidence that Iran has a nuclear weapons program, but that doesn’t stop the Republican Idiots from rattling sabres and screaming for people to be afraid like the terrorists they are. Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has said, on the record, that Iran isn’t trying to create nuclear weapons — that is a *KNOWN* fact. It just finds Iran’s quest for nuclear power “troubling”; no actual threat has been assessed, they just find it “troubling”.

Personally, what I find “troubling” is America’s history of invading other nations without any real provocation, and Israel’s tendency to bomb Iran without any evidence whatsoever. I find the fact that Israel has a nuclear arsenal that no one will “officially” admit to, and that Israel is committing humanitarian crimes against Palestinians on a daily basis. What I find troubling is that conservatives keep screaming about the non-issue of Iran’s non-existent nuclear weapons program as they gloss over the problems caused by abusive drug laws, fascist copyright and internet laws, the massive issue of global warming and ignoring how Western companies are gouging the consumers as their senior executives continue to get massive pay and bonuses for screwing the economy. What I find troubling is the continued inhuman attacks against women and minority groups like gays in America that no one in power is standing up against (The tyranny of the Majority should never be determining minority rights).

What I find troubling is how politicians are stressing non-issues over the real troubles facing the world today, and how everyone who points this out is insulted, ridiculed and dismissed as an “activist”. Iran isn’t even on the radar as an “important issue”.

Mar 06, 2012 9:50pm EST  --  Report as abuse
jrpardinas wrote:
“Israel insists that military action against Iran would be warranted to prevent it from attaining the capability to make nuclear weapons, as opposed to when it actually builds a device.”

The arrogance of the Israelis and their American pawns knows no bounds! To begin with, any relatively modern state would necessarily have the know-how to make a nuclear weapon.

What the Israelis and the Americans really want is to arrogate to themselves exclusive rights to possession of such weapons. Israel regionally and the US (as much as it can manage it) globally.

That way they can, with impunity, threaten the very existence of every other people that cannot muster a nuclear deterrent.

Mar 06, 2012 10:58pm EST  --  Report as abuse
fromthecenter wrote:
the world has had enough war. The rulers in Iran are using this nuclear spat in an attempt to focus their population on another enemy. The true enemy of the Iranian people are their rulers. Maybe if we stopped this constant fight over nuclear ambitions the people would refocus on removing the ruling elite from power again. Look around the middle east, the people are tired of these arrogant dictators and want democracy. There are alot of people in Iran that feel the same way.

Mar 07, 2012 2:00am EST  --  Report as abuse
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