VIENNA (Reuters) - Western powers told Iran on Thursday it must get off the “path of non-compliance and confrontation” and start to address their concerns about its nuclear program at long-stalled talks due to resume next week.
Iran has agreed to meet with a representative of six world powers in Geneva on Dec 6-7 but it has made clear it will not negotiate about its “nuclear rights,” code for sensitive work the West suspects is aimed at developing an atomic arsenal.
“There is no alternative: Iran must actively address the lack of confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of its nuclear program,” Germany, France and Britain said in a joint statement at a meeting of the board of the U.N. nuclear agency.
The statement, read out by Germany’s envoy at the closed door session, said the latest report on Iran’s nuclear program by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “paints a very disturbing picture” of Tehran’s behavior.
“It again testifies that Iran continues down the path of non-compliance and confrontation,” it said.
The major powers — which apart from the three big European Union countries include heavyweights the United States, Russia and China - want Iran to suspend uranium enrichment in return for a package of trade and other incentives.
Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful power generation and has repeatedly rejected demands to curb enrichment, which can have both civilian and military purposes.
The EU trio said the objective in Geneva was “to engage Iran into a phased approach of confidence building which should lead to meaningful negotiations.”
The U.S. envoy to the IAEA, Ambassador Glyn Davies, said he hoped for “frank, constructive and meaningful” talks with Iran.
“We would like to arrive at an early negotiated resolution of international concerns with Iran’s nuclear program,” Davies told the 35-nation IAEA governing board.
He added that “this was a problem that will not go away absent meaningful and concrete steps by Iran.”
Iran’s ambassador to the agency said Tehran was ready for talks to resolve global and regional issues and “conflicts of the whole world” — comments that may stoke Western fears that Iran will seek to focus the discussions on non-nuclear issues.
“We hope that we will have positive developments in that direction,” Ali Asghar Soltanieh told reporters.
Western diplomats hope tougher sanctions on Iran introduced by the United Nations, the United States and the EU since June will persuade the major oil exporter to enter serious discussions about its nuclear work.
Iran has dismissed the impact of such punitive measures.
IAEA Director General Yukiya Amano earlier Thursday complained about Iran’s lack of cooperation with his inspectors, highlighting the challenges that negotiators face in seeking to resolve the dispute over the Islamic state’s nuclear ambitions.
“The agency needs Iran’s cooperation in clarifying outstanding issues which give rise to concerns about possible military dimensions to its nuclear program,” he said.
Throwing independent weight behind the West’s suspicions about Tehran’s atomic ambitions, Amano said in a report on Iran in February that the IAEA feared Tehran may be working now to develop a nuclear-armed missile.
Diplomats and analysts do not expect any breakthrough at the meeting in Geneva between Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
They say it the first such meeting in more than a year could be the start of a process the West hopes will eventually lead to a resolution of the row, which has the potential to provoke a regional arms race and military conflict.
Editing by Jon Hemming