Iran, 6 world powers resume nuclear talks
GENEVA — Iran and six world powers came to the table today with an exchange of pleasantries but far apart on how deeply their talks should go into the West's greatest concern — Iranian nuclear activities that could be used to make atomic weapons.
The talks in Geneva — the first in over a year — are meant to ease fears over Iran's nuclear agenda. Tehran says it does not want atomic arms, but as it builds on its capacity to make such weapons, neither Israel nor the U.S. have ruled out military action if Tehran fails to heed U.N. Security Council demands to freeze key nuclear programs.
The delegations of Iran, the European Union, the U.S., Russia, Britain, France and Germany hurried inside to escape pouring rain, and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton met Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief negotiator, in the foyer of the conference room.
As the doors closed to reporters, the two had joined the representatives of the other delegations sitting around a light brown oval wooden table, with flags of their nations behind them.
"The two sides exchanged pleasantries — the atmosphere was pleasant but busineslike," an official from one of the delegations said. He told The Associated Press the first hour of the meeting was taken up by the six powers making a case for why they thought Iran's nuclear program needed to be discussed, with the Iranian side expected to state their case next.
But the chief negotiator from one of the six powers warned: "Don't expect much of anything," before the talks began, in a comment reflecting the deep divide separating the two sides. But men asked for anonymity because neither was authorized to comment to the media.
The long-term aim for the six is nudging Iran toward agreeing to stop uranium enrichment, which can make both fuel for reactors and the fissile core of nuclear arms.
But Iran's defiance was highlighted Sunday when it announced it had delivered its first domestically mined raw uranium to a processing facility, claiming it was now self-sufficient over the whole enrichment process. It has burdened the pre-talk atmosphere, adding to tensions left by the assassination last week of a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist and the wounding of another.
Salehi, head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran and the country's vice president, said Iran had for the first time delivered domestically mined raw uranium to a processing facility — allowing it to bypass U.N. sanctions prohibiting import of the material.
Salehi said the delivery was evidence mysterious bombings that targeted the Iranian scientists would not slow the country's progress.
Iran acquired a considerable stock of yellowcake from South Africa in the 1970s under the former U.S.-backed shah's original nuclear program, as well as unspecified quantities of yellowcake obtained from China long before the U.N. sanctions.
Western nations said last year that Iran was running out of raw uranium as that imported stockpile diminished and asserted that Tehran did not have sufficient domestic ore to run the large-scale civilian program it said it was assembling.
"Given that Iran's own supply of uranium is not enough for a peaceful nuclear energy program, this calls into further question Iran's intentions and raises additional concerns at a time when Iran needs to address the concerns of the international community," said Mike Hammer, spokesman of the U.S. National Security Council.
But Salehi denied that local stocks were lacking and said the step meant Iran was now self-sufficient over the entire nuclear fuel cycle — from extracting uranium ore to enriching it and producing nuclear fuel.
Since Iran's clandestine enrichment program was discovered eight years ago, Iran has resisted both rewards — offers of technical and economic cooperation — and four sets of increasingly harsh U.N. sanctions meant to force it to freeze its enrichment program.
Nations have a right to enrich domestically and Iran insists it is doing so only to make fuel for an envisaged network of reactors and not to make fissile warhead material. But international concerns are strong because Tehran developed its enrichment program clandestinely and because it refuses to cooperate with an IAEA probe meant to follow up on suspicions that it experimented with components of a nuclear weapons program — something Iran denies.
Israel has threatened to attack Iran, even though Israel is believed to have stockpiled more than 200 nuclear weapons and it is not a member of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty.
Western officials have urged Tehran to meet international concerns about its nuclear activities.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has said it was up to Iran to restore trust about its nuclear intentions, urging it to come to Geneva prepared to "firmly, conclusively reject the pursuit of nuclear weapons."
But for Iran the main issues are peace, prosperity — and nuclear topics only in the context of global disarmament.
"Iran has not and will not allow anybody in the talks to withdraw one iota of the rights of the Iranian nation," President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said before the talks.