Talks underway in Geneva over Iranian nuclear program

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 6, 2010 

GENEVA — An Iraniannegotiator on Monday met with officials from six nations, including the United States, on ways to rein in Iran's nuclear program.

An official close to the talks said he was optimistic about the first session, saying Iran agreed that the talks should focus on fears it is trying to develop a nuclear bomb. There had been fears the Iranians would refuse to discuss their nuclear work but Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili opened the meeting with Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, as well as the European Union, by bringing up the issue “of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy,” the official said.

Meeting at a convention center in Geneva on a cold, rainy day, Jalili said the two sides needed to work together on nuclear issues. He said Iran “wanted to allay the fears of the international community” and regretted that so much “time had been lost” on resolving concern about Iran’s nuclear program, the official said. Others close to the meeting confirmed the official's account.

Iran claims its nuclear program is a peaceful effort to generate electricity. It now has almost 5,000 centrifuges enriching uranium, which can be fuel for power reactors or the raw material for atom bombs. The United States leads the international community in saying Iran seeks nuclear weapons.

The six world powers “set out their concerns about the nuclear program,” the official said. He said the talks were “constructive and positive,” even if the two sides did not have lunch together.

They ate in the same room but separated by “a divider separating where they were seated,” a Western official said.

He said that after Jalili spoke at the morning plenary session, each of the six other nations urged discussion of Iran’s nuclear program.

The first official said the six stressed the “lack of trust” in Iran’s intentions and the “importance of transparency” in allaying concerns the Islamic Republic is hiding work on developing nuclear weapons.

The sextet also reiterated a proposal already made to Iran for a fuel swap under which Iran would ship out enriched uranium it has made as a confidence-building measure to prove it is not trying to stockpile fissile material for weapons work.

The talks, which included bilateral sessions in the afternoon and an evening plenary session, are expected to wrap up on Tuesday. US and other officials have said their goal is for the Geneva talks to lead to a sustained negotiating process.

Jalili also brought up the issue of nuclear scientists who have been assassinated in Iran recently, saying “people have made a connection between the attacks and the talks,” the Western official said.

But it was clear this issue would not derail negotiations as Jalili did not accuse any of the nations present of the assassinations.

Lady Catherine Ashton, the European foreign policy chief who speaks for the sextet, condemned the killing of the Iranian scientists.

Adler is a McClatchy special correspondent.

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