Iran says no nuclear negotiation ahead of EU talks

TEHRAN (AFP) — Iran has vowed that its decision to resume nuclear fuel research is not negotiable, causing EU negotiators to cast doubt on the prospect of fresh talks aimed at convincing Tehran to halt enrichment activities.
A day after Iran notified the UN atomic watchdog of its decision to “start research on the technology of nuclear fuel in a few days,” the country’s chief official for the nuclear file, Ali Larijani, said the decision was “not negotiable.”

His comments followed similar remarks late Tuesday by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who was quoted by state television as saying Iran would not “step back” on its decision to resume nuclear fuel work.

The increasingly hardline tone from Iranian leaders came despite calls from the International Atomic Energy Agency, Europe and the United States to maintain its suspension of enrichment-related activities.

Germany, a member of the EU-3 negotiating team that also includes Britain and France, said it viewed Iran’s latest announcement with “concern,” and added that it could “throw into doubt the exploratory talks” to be held in Vienna on Jan. 18.

France also urged Iran to withdraw plans to resume research on its nuclear programme, warning that future talks could be put on hold.

“We firmly call on Iran to retract this announcement which if carried out would clearly go against the demands of the International Atomic Energy Agency… and place in serious doubt the continuation of discussions started on December 21 in Vienna,” foreign ministry spokesman Jean-Baptiste Mattei said.

A Western diplomat said that Tehran’s gesture “is the sign that shows Iran’s negotiations with the EU are on their last legs.”

However, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki insisted on state television that “Iran is ready for negotiations with the European Union.”

The negotiating process has been increasingly fragile since Tehran restarted uranium ore conversion last year, a precursor step to enrichment.

Though Iran did not specify exactly what kind of research it aimed to restart in the coming days, the deputy chief of Iran’s atomic energy agency said the Islamic republic had “voluntarily” suspended such activities for around “the past two-and-a-half years.”

The time frame roughly corresponds to when Iran ceased enrichment activities in October 2003, a suspension which was sealed in an agreement between Iran and the European troika in November 2004.

The United States threatened Tuesday to seek international action against Iran if it resumed nuclear fuel research, suggesting the world’s patience with Tehran could be wearing thin.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack accused the Iranians of doing a “bob and weave” in negotiations, and said that “if Iran takes any further enrichment-related steps, the international community will have to consider additional measures to constrain Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

“Trying to draw a line around something being pure research with respect to enrichment activities is not something that we’re going to buy, and I don’t think the international community will either,” he added.

However, Larijani retorted that “Iran has said for a long time that the question of research did not form part of the negotiations.”

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