Iran and EU face tough nuclear talks

Chances of a breakthrough appear slim when Iran’s main nuclear negotiator meets Europe’s top diplomat on Friday in a last effort to avert tougher sanctions over Tehran’s disputed atomic program.Iran will see little reason to relent in its refusal to suspend uranium enrichment given that six big powers remain at odds over how soon to resort to more United Nations penalties and how harsh they should be, diplomats and analysts say.

The West says Iran’s nuclear program is aimed at building atom bombs. Iran, a major oil exporter, says efforts to enrich uranium are intended only to produce electricity.

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili will put forward “new initiatives” to European Union foreign policy chief Javier Solana in London on Friday, Tehran said earlier this week, without giving further details.

But it said there will be no talk about suspension of nuclear fuel work, a key demand of the U.N. Security Council. Without a suspension, Iran will face a third, wider round of sanctions.

The five permanent members of the Security Council plus Germany agreed earlier that barring “a positive outcome” by November to both EU-Iran talks and a U.N. nuclear watchdog investigation of Iran, they would draft a new resolution imposing wider financial, trade and visa restrictions.

But Russia and China, and to a lesser extent Germany, have close commercial ties to Iran and are likely to tailor their new sanctions proposals accordingly, taking a less hawkish approach than that of the United States, Britain and France.

Jalili replaced Ali Larijani as chief nuclear negotiator in October. Close to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, he is seen by analysts as signaling a hardening in Iran’s position.

“It is hard to imagine that Iran will really offer anything new and of value,” said Mark Fitzpatrick, senior fellow for non-proliferation studies at London’s International Institute for Strategic Studies. He said Iranian leaders had repeatedly dismissed compromise proposals brought back by Larijani.

“It might be conceivable if they thought that Russia and China would otherwise join in pushing through a strong sanctions resolution. But more likely Iran is just posturing in order to keep Russia and China from losing patience,” he said.

STALLING

An International Atomic Energy Agency report on November 15 said Iran was cooperating to clarify past secret nuclear activity. But IAEA knowledge of the scope of Tehran’s program today was diminishing due to Iranian restrictions on U.N. inspections.

Such “partial cooperation” was not enough to spare Iran from steps to more sanctions, the United States and EU powers said.

Two sets of mild sanctions have been slapped on Iran so far.

Solana, in talks with Iranian officials in Rome on October 23, proposed an interim freeze on expansion in Iran’s nuclear work in return for a freeze on steps to wider sanctions, EU officials have disclosed. This would still need to be followed by a full suspension, they said.

“However, Iran made no gesture of goodwill in Rome, refusing both the double freeze and the double suspension,” EU powers Britain, France and Germany said in a statement last week.

An EU official said Solana did not have authorization to go beyond offering the “double freeze”, suggesting Friday’s meeting was unlikely to yield results.

Solana was expected to hold a teleconference with foreign ministers of the so-called “P5+1” after his meeting. The group will meet in Paris on Saturday to consider his report, the British Foreign Office said on Wednesday.

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