Thursday, 22 October 2009

Iran nuclear talks with US, other powers stall in Vienna

Iran in a new round of talks on its nuclear program in Vienna, spinning the merry go round where the US and other powers were hoping to nail down a deal.

Some diplomats had been hoping for a breakthrough, with a deal sealed to send a large portion of Iran's nuclear fuel abroad for further processing. Instead, Iran appeared to shift the playing field again.

The Ahmadinejad’s delegation objected to French participation in the plan to ship nuclear fuel out of the country -- something that Iran had agreed to at the start of October. This trick delayed the formal meeting all day.

Finally in the evening, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) chief Mohammed Elbaradi managed to coax Iranian officials to a set of intensive talks with the US, and later on they met with all of the delegations for another round of negotiations that remained inconclusive by 10 pm.

Mr. Elbaradi, . on Tuesday said only that nuclear negotiations were "making progress" and that a deal is still "possible." He didn't elaborate further.

The Vienna negotiations are part of the Obama administration's strategy to give Iran a chance to abide by international rules designed to limit the proliferation of nuclear weapons. The White House has given Iran a finite amount of time to show "good faith" following a historic Oct. 1 Geneva meeting that saw the US and Iran meet directly for the first time in decades, as a senior US diplomat put it.

Former United Nation's Ambassador John Bolton have called the talks "naïve" and charge that Iran is only playing for time, with no interest in acquiescing to additional safe-guards on its nuclear program.

There was definitely some foot dragging. Delegates from Russia, Iran, the US and France entered the main meeting room at the IAEA center in Vienna at 10 am, but they walked out shortly thereafter, with the delegations retreating to the warren of rooms underneath the main hall, signalling an impasse. Talks were set to reconvene at noon, then 1 pm, then 4:30, then 7, and then 8 – and did not resume until 8:30.

In the Geneva agreement, Russia would reprocess most of Iran's stock of low-enriched uranium (LEU) into a highly enriched form that could power a nuclear reactor. The material would then be shipped to France, which would convert it into fuel rods that Iran says it needs to run a reactor in Tehran that was built in the 1970s.

Iran's top diplomat in Tehran also attempted to stake out the high ground by claiming that Iran's presence in Vienna is itself proof that Iran is a responsible power, and that it will "never abandon its legal and obvious right" to pursue the peaceful use of nuclear power.

On Monday, Tehran said that if talks failed Iran would begin to reprocess on its own – and also accused the US and UK of having a hidden hand in the bloody suicide attack on its Revolutionary Guard in western Iran that killed over 30 people.

Some diplomats in Vienna felt that neither the Iranian nor the Russian delegates were senior enough to warrant a final deal. While the Obama team includes deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman, the Iranian team is made up of its Vienna based UN diplomats, led by Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh. This does not mean a binding agreement can't be achieved, said IAEA officials, "but there is at least one further step that would be required," said one.

"The level of the Iranian team is not high," said a Western diplomat associated with one of the teams.

Iranian analyst Karim Sadjadpour of the Carnegie Endowment in Washington argues there is not yet enough "internal consensus" in Tehran "on significant divides" between different factions to make substantial progress.

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