Iran agrees to more nuclear talks next month

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 7, 2010 

GENEVA — Iran agreed Tuesday to another international meeting next month on its nuclear program, though it appeared that two days of talks in Geneva had made little progress in the seven-year push for it to guarantee that it isn't seeking to build a nuclear weapon.

European Union foreign-policy chief Lady Catherine Ashton characterized the talks between Iran and the sextet of Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States as "substantive" and "detailed" and said January's meeting would be a search for “practical ideas and ways of cooperating towards resolution of our core concerns about the nuclear issue."

But Iran's negotiator, Saeed Jalili, offered a different interpretation, calling Ashton's comments "disrespectful" and saying that the meeting next month in Istanbul would be devoted only to “cooperation to find common ground.”

"I am announcing openly and clearly that Iran will not discuss a uranium enrichment halt in the next meeting in Istanbul with major powers," Jalili said.

His position was echoed in Iran, where the Islamic Republic of Iran Broadcasting website said President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had called on the international community "to amend their wrong policies on Iran’s peaceful nuclear program."

“If you step forward towards justice, we will enthusiastically welcome you; otherwise you will hear the same response from the Iranian nation, which will you make you repent,” the website quoted Ahmadinejad as saying.

Still, Western officials said the primary goal of the Geneva meeting, resuming negotiations that broke off 14 months ago, had been achieved.

“Our expectations for this set of talks were low and I can’t say they were exceeded,” said a U.S. official, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity because he wasn't authorized to comment publicly. He described the talks as “difficult and candid.”

At their last meeting, in October 2009, the six world powers and Iran agreed that Iran would ship most of its enriched uranium to Russia in exchange for fuel for a research reactor. The plan foundered within weeks, however, as Iran objected to the timing of the exchange.

Iran claims its nuclear program is a peaceful effort to generate electricity and that its right to such a program under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty isn't debatable.

The United States leads the international community in charging that Iran wants to build the capacity to enrich uranium for nuclear weapons.

Iran has built an impressive infrastructure since its once-secret program was discovered in 2002. It has almost 5,000 centrifuges dedicated to uranium enrichment.

The talks in Geneva apparently covered well-trod ground. The six world powers stressed Iran’s need to comply with U.N. Security Council resolutions that call on it to halt uranium enrichment, while Jalili stressed Iran’s right to enrich uranium and said that any discussion of Iran's nuclear program should include disarmament by countries that have nuclear weapons.

Despite the lack of progress, a British official, who also wasn't authorized to speak publicly, said that the six world powers had “concluded today that it was worth having another meeting with the Iranians as part of our genuine attempt to engage on the nuclear issue.”

(Adler is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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