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Iran, EU Still Seen As Far Apart On Nuclear Issues

Iranian Foreign Minister Kharrazi (in file photo) said the EU-3 and Iran will study the production of nuclear fuel in Russia Iran and the European Union have agreed to keep negotiating in a bid to reach a definitive agreement on Iran's nuclear program. During talks in Geneva yesterday, Iran renewed its pledge not to pursue nuclear weapons. In return, the foreign ministers of Britain, France, and Germany promised to provide Tehran with fresh proposals by the end of July or the beginning of August aimed at securing a deal. The meeting was triggered by Iran's threat to resume some of its frozen nuclear activities. EU officials had warned that such a move could lead to the collapse of the talks and move the European Union closer to supporting U.S. efforts to refer Iran's nuclear case to the UN Security Council.

Prague, 26 May 2005 (RFE/RL) -- Yesterday's talks between Iran and the so-called EU troika averted what appeared to be an imminent diplomatic crisis.

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Hassan Rohani, and the foreign ministers of Britain, France, and Germany agreed to resume negotiations in two months.

The three-hour talks were held behind closed doors in Geneva. Afterward, Rohani expressed his hope that a final agreement would be reached soon.

"We believe that, following what was discussed today, we could come to a final agreement within a reasonably short time," Rohani said.

But he said Iran's leaders must first agree to even allow a two-month breathing space in the nuclear talks.

"Our response to the proposal that has been put forward by the 'EU 3' today will have to wait until after we have taken up the entire discussion in Tehran," Rohani said. "We need to have consultations in Tehran before we make a decision on this issue."

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that Iran had reaffirmed its suspension of some nuclear activities. He said the EU would present Iran with fresh proposals in two months -- believed to be economic and trade benefits -- without giving any specifics.

"The European side said that it would make detailed proposals to Iran by the end of July [or] the beginning of August as outlined and discussed today and earlier by our officials in the context of the Paris Agreement remaining in force," Straw said.

Straw added that the EU recognizes Iran's right to pursue peaceful nuclear activities.

"The European side once again recognized Iran's rights under the [Nuclear] Non-Proliferation Treaty exercised in conformity with its obligations under the treaty without discrimination," Straw said. "Iran, for its part, reaffirmed its commitment to not seeking nuclear weapons."

Gary Samore, the director of studies at the International Institute of Strategic Studies, said that, despite the goodwill generated by yesterday's meeting, the EU and Iran still remain far apart on the most important issue.

"I think it was an important outcome in that it postponed a breakdown in the talks between the EU-3 and Iran until after the presidential elections in Iran," Samore said. "[But] the two sides are still very far apart. The EU three are demanding that Iran permanently cease its enrichment program, and Iran has categorically rejected giving up its right to enrichment."

Enriched uranium can be used as a fuel for producing nuclear power or to build nuclear weapons. Iran has repeatedly said its nuclear activities are peaceful. The United States accuses Tehran of secretly seeking to develop nuclear weapons.

As a compromise solution to end the deadlock, Iran has reportedly proposed that Russia carry out the final process of enrichment after Iran has processed the uranium. Russia is building Iran's first nuclear reactor at Bushehr.

Iranian Foreign Minister Kamal Kharrazi said ahead of yesterday's meeting that the EU-3 and Iran will study the production of nuclear fuel in Russia.

Samore said he believes it will be some time before Iran and the EU countries reach any deal.

"I do think that as long as the threat of referral to the Security Council remains a credible threat, I think Iran will be very reluctant to walk away from the talks and resume its enrichment program," Samore said. "So what you may see is the talks stretch out over some period of time as the two sides try to work out some kind of compromise that would basically require Iran to accept very substantial limitations on its nuclear program."

Less than 24 hours after the talks between Iran and the EU, the World Trade Organization (WTO) agreed to start accession negotiations with Tehran. The decision is considered a reward for agreeing to maintain a freeze on uranium enrichment. The United States had previously opposed Iran's application to join the WTO.

In March, the U.S. government had said it would offer economic incentives to Iran to support the EU's efforts. The incentives -- rejected as insufficient by Iran -- included support for Tehran's entry into the WTO and the sale of spare parts for the country's aging commercial airliners.

Iran's ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Mohamed Reza Alborzi, said today that Iran had not renewed its interest in joining the WTO. He said the request was first made nine years ago and blocked by the United States.

"It was a decision which was long overdue, and I think that it is positive that it was taken today," Alborzi said. "It will open a new door for trade cooperation between Iran and the International community."

Alborzi said Washington first opposed its WTO application for political purposes and is now supporting it for the same reason.
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    Golnaz Esfandiari

    Golnaz Esfandiari is a senior correspondent for RFE/RL focusing on Iran. She has reported from Afghanistan and Haiti and is the author of The Farda Briefing newsletter. Her work has been cited by The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major publications. Born and raised in Tehran, she is fluent in Persian, French, English, and Czech.