EU tells defiant Iran it "must" suspend atom activity

VIENNA/BRUSSELS Mon May 7, 2012 2:29pm EDT

File photo of U.S. envoy Robert Wood attending an IAEA board of governors meeting in Vienna. REUTERS/Herwig Prammer

File photo of U.S. envoy Robert Wood attending an IAEA board of governors meeting in Vienna.

Credit: Reuters/Herwig Prammer

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VIENNA/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Union told Iran on Monday it must suspend uranium enrichment, a few days after the Islamic state ruled out doing just that, as Tehran and the West engaged in diplomatic shadow-boxing ahead of nuclear talks this month.

The United States called on Iran to take "urgent practical steps" to build confidence during negotiations with world powers on Tehran's nuclear program, which Washington and its allies suspect is a bid to develop an atomic bomb capability.

Iran, attending an international conference in Vienna alongside its Western foes, for its part accused the United States of supporting Israel's atomic activities. The Jewish state is widely assumed to hold the Middle East's only nuclear arsenal.

Iran and the six major powers resumed discussions last month in Istanbul after a gap of more than a year - a chance to ease escalating tension and avert the threat of a new Middle East war - and both sides described the atmosphere as positive.

The next meeting between the powers - the United States, France, Britain, China, Russia and Germany - and Iran is to take place on May 23 in the Iraqi capital. Iranian officials say they are "optimistic" about making progress.

But with Iran seeking an end to sanctions and Western states reluctant to prematurely ease the pressure they credit with bringing Tehran to the negotiating table, diplomats are already playing down the chances of a settlement in Baghdad.

"A lot of people are talking the Baghdad talks up. We are also hopeful. But it is important to remain realistic," one European diplomat said. "This will be a start, not an end."

Western officials fear Iran may be hardening its demand for relief from sanctions which have been tightened over the past year to target its oil exports, and say this round of talks will at best serve as a stepping stone towards a final deal.

They want to see Iran take firm action to allay their concerns over its nuclear program and curb its processing of uranium before considering relaxing punitive steps on Tehran.

With an EU embargo on Iranian crude due to start in full on July 1, Tehran is likely to push hard on the sanctions issue.

But, a diplomat said: "I fear the Iranians misunderstand the nature of European decision-making. The embargo is a decision that's already taken."

At the meeting in Vienna to discuss the 189-nation nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), U.S. envoy Robert Wood expressed concern over what he called "Iran's persistent failure" to comply with its obligations under the pact.

"We seek a sustained process that produces concrete results, and call on Iran to take urgent practical steps to build confidence and lead to compliance with all its international obligations," Wood told delegates.

The West wants verifiable assurances from Tehran that it is not seeking to develop atomic arms - for example, by accepting much more intrusive U.N. inspections and limiting its enrichment capacity.

WEST SAYS IRAN STONEWALLING

Israel and the United States have not ruled out military action to prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons if diplomacy fails to resolve the long-running row.

Iran denies having a weapons agenda, saying it is enriching uranium solely for peaceful energy purposes, not for bombs.

Iran "is strongly committed to the objective of preventing proliferation of nuclear weapons under its NPT obligations," Iranian Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh said in a speech.

Soltanieh told Reuters last week that Iran would "never" suspend enrichment, which can have both civilian and military purposes, and saw no reason to close the Fordow underground site which it has used to expand higher-grade nuclear activity.

The U.N. Security Council has demanded in a series of resolutions since 2006 that Iran suspend all enrichment.

Many analysts say a negotiated solution will require compromises on both sides: Iran would be allowed to continue some lower-level enrichment if it accepts much more intrusive U.N. nuclear inspections to make sure it has no weapons aims.

But the EU, which includes European heavyweights France, Germany and Britain, showed no sign of backing down on the suspension demand in its statement to the Vienna meeting.

"Iran must suspend its enrichment activities and heavy water related projects, including research and development," Gyorgyi Martin Zanathy, head of the EU delegation, said.

Daniel Keohane of FRIDE, a European think-tank, said the best outcome in Baghdad would be a "fleshing out of issues" that would be a part of a deal but the "danger is that the Iranian position can harden" in the meantime.

The week before the broader political negotiations take place in Baghdad, the U.N. nuclear agency and Iran will hold a new round of discussions in Vienna on May 14-15 after two meetings earlier this year failed to make any headway.

The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) wants Iran to address questions raised in a report it issued last November detailing what it said were suspected Iranian research and development activities relevant to making nuclear weapons.

Iran has dismissed the allegations as fabricated.

Wood, the U.S. envoy to the U.N. agency, said: "We are concerned that Iran has not agreed to grant the IAEA access to all relevant sites, information, documents and persons necessary to resolve questions about its nuclear program."

(Editing by Jon Hemming)

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Comments (22)
stambo2001 wrote:
k, raise your hand if you are sick and tired of decade after decade of this garbage. How about either the usa and the zionists either attack Iran or they simply just shut the heck up once and for all. According to the chicken hawks Iran has been on the verge of nuclear weapons for years. How many times have we heard the pleas from the zionists that their will be mushroom clouds over Bethlaham in a few weeks if they ‘don’t act now’? The sky is falling, the sky is falling, the sky is falling.

Tell ya what, when the usa stops proliferating nuclear weapons and technology around the globe we start to care a bit more. When the usa stops the research into the miniaturization of nuclear warheads maybe the world will listen to it’s hypocritical whining and complaining.

This song is so overplayed, so overused, so played out every single person on the planet knows the words and music. They will not stop their sovereign right to nuclear research, so either attack or shut up! Man-o-man we need some real men in control, the world is suffering under these emo, overly pc, money directed half-men.

May 07, 2012 6:43am EDT  --  Report as abuse
scythe wrote:
@ stambo2001 – well said

especially “Tell ya what, when the usa stops proliferating nuclear weapons and technology around the globe we start to care a bit more. When the usa stops the research into the miniaturization of nuclear warheads maybe the world will listen to it’s hypocritical whining and complaining.”

May 07, 2012 7:01am EDT  --  Report as abuse
MissouriRick wrote:
May 7, 2012
Again, Chris requests: Do not hold talks in Baghdad!
It appears that the international community, including Russia and including China are gonna have to face a increasingly obvious scenario that Iran is taking steps toward making nuclear weapons … The talks, we’d like to give the talks more chances but, progress must be made and a couple of little steps of agreement at least are expected, a couple of little steps of progress … We don’t want to spoil or jeapordise chances of progress with Iran, So please, lets all be sensitive … So, please, maybe stop demanding certain steps -before- the talks have even begun. Lay out our position, our non-negotiable positions, but also, lay out little steps of progress to agree upon … that can be requested and reasonably be agreed upon … And, it seems that talks must soon take on an ‘on-going’ status, where they are not stopped … Continued and on-going talks, because there’s too much to work out … and progress on many points is not being made … Success so far has not been much, I think you can all agree. These talks on May 23… May 23rd is the start date, when is the finish date?
Chris again requests that talks NOT be held in Baghdad. Are you all just having nice diplomatic meals and pleasantries? while the agenda of non-proliferation keeps getting pushed aside? like kicking the can down the lane? After all this concern and watch and sweat and anxiety will we soon wake up and find Iran a nuclear weapon’s state? Chris has four requests now: 1) Please find a new location; 2) change status to continued on-going talks; 3) accomplish baby steps so that some progress can be shown; 4) do not make demands before talks have begun.

May 07, 2012 7:52am EDT  --  Report as abuse
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