x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Iran nuclear talks begin

Iran and six world powers haggle over the terms of negotiations that the West hopes will limit Iranian nuclear activities that could be used to make atomic weapons.

GENEVA // Iran and six world powers haggled yesterday over the terms of negotiations that the West hopes will limit Iranian nuclear activities that could be used to make atomic weapons.

As the meeting - their first in a year - broke for lunch, there were signs that both sides were at least willing to listen, even though they may remain far apart on how deeply the talks should tackle concerns about Iranian nuclear activities.

Several officials from the six powers at the meeting - the US, Russia, Britain, France, Germany and the European Union - said the Iranian delegation had reacted calmly when told the group was still seeking a commitment from Tehran to stop uranium enrichment, which can make fuel for both reactors and the fissile core of nuclear arms.

Iran has insisted previously that the topic of enrichment was not up for negotiation.

Tehran says it does not want atomic arms, but as it builds up its capacity to make such weapons, neither Israel nor the US have ruled out military action if Tehran fails to heed UN Security Council demands to freeze key nuclear programmes.

The EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton "thoroughly condemned" the assassination last week of a prominent Iranian nuclear scientist and the wounding of another, said one official, after the chief Iranian negotiator Saed Jalili said the attacks had burdened the atmosphere of the talks.

Ms Ashton also met Mr Jalili in the foyer of the conference centre before the talks began. As the doors closed to reporters yesterday morning, the two had joined the other delegations sitting around an oval table.

Although other non-nuclear issues had also been mentioned, Ms Ashton and others focused on the need to concentrate on Iran's nuclear programme, said the official who, like another who agreed to discuss what went on inside the meeting, did so on condition of anonymity.

A series of bilateral meetings were planned after lunch. Those meetings could include a one-on-one between Mr Jalili and US Undersecretary of State William Burns, who heads the US delegation, said the officials.

The Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki sounded a note of optimism as the talks began, telling reporters in Athens that "the countries that are participating today in the talks on the nuclear programme have the room to follow a policy to resolve the issue."

Nonetheless, Iran's state-run media and hardline media yesterday highlighted Mr Jalili's statement about the attacks on the scientists. Raja News, a hardline website, said Mr Jalili had turned the first day of talks into "a court to try" the other nations participating in the talks.

Iran's English Language Press TV said Mr Jalili pointed out that Israel and Britain could have been involved in the terrorist operations. Also, Iranian government officials and state-run media declared that the talks are for the benefit of the six other nations.

Officials suggested that by agreeing to talk, Iran has provided the others with a face-saving way out of a diplomatic hole.

"We want to create a graceful solution out of the political deadlock for those who have pressured us," Iran's nuclear chief, Ali Akbar Salehi, told Iranian state television.

State-run media ignored the reasons Iran may have returned to the talks, such as the growing international pressure and the prospects of more sanctions. The talks also provide Western nations with a chance to seek Iran's help in resolving regional and global problems.

If Western powers adopt a "policy based on mutual respect for nations' rights," Iran could help them establish peace and security in the region and beyond, Iran's foreign ministry spokesman, Ramin Mehmanparast, told the state-run news agency, IRNA.

However, the Islamic Republic, Mr Mehmanparast insisted, would "never give up" or negotiate on its rights, referring to Iran's enrichment of uranium. On Sunday, Iran 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.

* Reported by the Associated Press with reporting by foreign correspondents Maryam Sinaiee and Michael Theodoulou