December 21, 2005

Iran holds tough line as EU nuclear talks resume

By Mark Heinrich

VIENNA (Reuters) - Iran reiterated its intention to develop
a fully-fledged nuclear program on Wednesday as Europe's top
three powers revived a dialogue with Tehran over suspicions it
is secretly trying to make nuclear bombs.

Confrontation rather than compromise has been brewing after
declarations from Iran that the Holocaust is a myth and Israel
should be wiped out, and a European Union accusation on Tuesday
that Tehran has systematically violated human rights at home.

The Islamic republic's increasingly vocal hostility toward
the Jewish state and commitment to developing sensitive
technology that could yield ingredients for nuclear weaponry
have stoked Western concern about its atomic program.

Tehran says it aims only to generate more electricity for
an energy-hungry economy. But it dodged U.N. nuclear inspectors
for 18 years until 2003 and the West says its cooperation since
has fallen short of what is needed to regain diplomatic

Wednesday's meeting between Iran and Britain, France and
Germany in Vienna will be "talks about talks" -- exploring
whether any basis exists for resuming negotiations on the
future of Iran's nuclear activity, frozen by the "EU3" last

"We won't reopen negotiations, we will only listen to what
the Iranians have to say, especially about research and
development," said an EU3 diplomat, alluding to centrifuge
machines capable of enriching uranium to arms-grade level.

"We will see whether what they say to us in private is any
different from what they have been declaring in public, to see
if there is wiggle room for resuming negotiations."

A diplomat said the talks had begun mid-morning at the
French embassy in Vienna.

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said the talks
should be without preconditions and establish a timetable for
Iran to resume uranium enrichment, which it suspended under a
2003 agreement with the EU trio.

"We don't want talks just for the sake of talks," he told
reporters in Tehran.


EU diplomats said the likely outcome would be a decision,
taken back in EU capitals, on whether to meet again in January.

Tehran's unswerving rejection of compromise proposals to
have its uranium purified by others abroad, to minimize chances
of it grasping the complex technology needed to make bombs, has
depressed prospects for a diplomatic solution.

"When we talk about (wanting) nuclear technology it means
that enrichment to produce fuel for our reactors should be done
inside Iran and it means having the complete nuclear fuel
cycle," Mottaki said.

He added that Iran would not again suspend uranium ore
processing at its Isfahan plant, the resumption of which in
August led to the breakdown of the EU-Iran talks, and intended
to restart preliminary work on enrichment technology.

"Isfahan is a done deal," he said. "The research and
building parts for (enrichment) centrifuges is not the same as
enriching uranium. When the time comes we will announce the
resumption of these activities," he added.

Diplomats said recent public statements by Iranian
officials gave little cause for optimism.

"The problem is, Iran's hardliners were encouraged to
believe they could inch forward toward enrichment when they
managed to restart uranium processing without provoking a
referral to the U.N. Security Council," one diplomat said.

U.S.-EU moves to send Iran's case to the Security Council
for possible sanctions have stumbled on resistance by Russia,
China and developing nations on the board of the watchdog
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

The IAEA board opted in November to put off any referral to
give time for promoting an EU-backed proposal for Russia to
enrich Iran's uranium under a joint venture.

But Tehran has rebuffed the idea and interest in it seems
to have waned in Moscow, which has major energy and arms links
with Iran, including a $1 billion nuclear reactor under
construction and a $1 billion package of missiles and other

Some analysts believe that if dialogue runs aground again,
the way would be cleared to an emergency IAEA board session and
vote to put Iran in Security Council hands. But Russia and
China could veto sanctions as permanent powers on the Council.

(Additional reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Paul Hughes in
Tehran and Jon Boyle in Paris)