Tehran says Washington sabotaging atomic deal

EU warns Iran on uranium work ahead of pivotal meetingAgencies

Iran’s top nuclear negotiator insisted Thursday that bilateral talks should continue on a Russian offer to enrich uranium for Iran, and warned that handing over the nuclear issue to the UN Security Council — as the United States has demanded — would kill Moscow’s initiative.

“America is lying, trying to destroy the Russian proposal,” Ali Larijani said at a news conference. “The Americans’ insistence on handing over the Iranian nuclear dossier to the UN Security Council means the destruction of the Russian proposal.”

Larijani said his team had put forward a “package proposal” in Wednesday’s talks in Moscow, denying that the discussions had ended in failure. “We need to give diplomats time to look at it,” he said.

Russia has urged Iran to freeze its domestic uranium enrichment programme as a condition for its offer to create a joint venture to enrich uranium for Tehran on Russian territory. But Larijani reaffirmed Tehran’s refusal to give it up.

The point was reinforced by Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who said during a visit to Malaysia that “it is very clear that we are not open to negotiating on our inalienable rights.”

A Russian nuclear agency official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak with the media, said the Moscow talks had snagged over Iran’s refusal to return to a moratorium on enrichment.

“They are ready in principle to accept our proposal, but we don’t want to discuss it separately” from the need for Iran to return to the moratorium, the official said.

Russia and Iran held further talks Thursday, which ended in the evening with no announcement of any progress, the Interfax news agency reported, quoting an unnamed official close to the negotiations.

The Iranian delegation later flew to Vienna, Austria, for talks with three European foreign ministers on Friday, said Russian Security Council spokeswoman Kseniya Roshchnina.

But in a letter to top Iranian nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, the foreign ministers of Britain, France and Germany, as well as EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana warned that Iran must stop uranium enrichment and cooperate with UN nuclear inspections in order to ensure progress at Friday’s meeting.

Anything short of this would result in a public disagreement, which would set back our shared objectives,” they said in the letter obtained by Agence France- Presse.

The letter, which a diplomat said was delivered Tuesday to Larijani, sets out “in advance some of the considerations that will be critical for success,” the text said.

The other condition is “that Iran fully cooperates with the IAEA, including resuming voluntary application of the provisions of the Additional Protocol,” which allows for wider and more intrusive IAEA inspections, the letter said.

“In our judgement, for such a meeting to be productive, we would need to conclude with a clear public commitment from Iran to return immediately to the status quo ante,” the letter said, referring to a previous agreement by Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment.

In Washington, the US State Department said Thursday Iran had only itself to blame for referral of its activities to the UN Security Council.

Deputy spokesman Adam Ereli reaffirmed US support for Russia’s enrichment proposal and for European negotiations with Iran. “We see that diplomacy as a way out of this conundrum,” Ereli said.

Larijani said Tehran would conduct separate talks with Britain, France and Germany — which have represented the European Union in nuclear negotiations with Iran — before a key meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s (IAEA) governing board on Monday.

The Vienna-based IAEA board of governors could start a process leading to punishment by the UN Security Council, which has the authority to impose sanctions on Iran.

Iran insists its nuclear program is only to generate power, but many in the West fear Iran is aiming to develop atomic weapons.

Moscow’s offer to have Iran’s uranium enrichment programme transferred to Russia has been backed by the United States and the EU as a way to provide more assurances that Tehran’s atomic programme could not be used to build weapons.

Larijani also said Tehran would accept inspections by the UN nuclear watchdog if the IAEA allowed it to pursue its nuclear programme.

Asked about IAEA chief Mohamed Baradei’s reported statement that the world may have to get used to the idea of Iran’s having limited enrichment capabilities, Larijani said it reflected a “realistic approach.” “I hope that people and ears can be found to listen to this proposal. I think that Mr. Baradei’s idea can be turned into a new formula, it can be studied,” he said.

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