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Europe

Nuclear Freeze Temporary, Iran Warns

Iran warned that it is not prepared to permanently freeze its controversial nuclear fuel work and that it expected quick results from crucial talks on Monday with Britain, France and Germany.

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Iran has been trying to allay fears about its nuclear program

"The permanent suspension of enrichment is not on our agenda," foreign ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi told reporters on the eve of the negotiations set to take place in Brussels. "We have agreed to a voluntary suspension for a short period. A short-term freeze is what we are stressing."

The Brussels talks are aimed at building on Iran's agreement to suspend sensitive uranium enrichment activities that have sparked fears the clerical regime is seeking to acquire nuclear weapons.

Over the coming months, the two sides will be trying to hammer out a long-term accord that includes "objective guarantees" Iran will not develop the bomb and a package of incentives in return.

This is to include the EU supporting Iran's bid to join the World Trade Organisation (WTO), an eventual Trade and Cooperation Agreement with the EU, addressing Iran's regional security concerns and sharing peaceful nuclear technology.

Deadline for talks in three months

Hassan Rowhani

Hassan Rowhani

Iran has pledged to maintain its nuclear fuel cycle freeze for the duration of the talks, but Iran's top nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani (photo) also warned Sunday that the Islamic republic would abandon the discussions if no progress was being made.

"We will continue the negotiations for as long as they are progressing," Rowhani told the official news agency IRNA before leaving for Brussels, where he is due to meet the British, French and German foreign ministers in a steering committee conference on the sidelines of an EU ministerial gathering.

"If at any point that our negotiations are not progressing, we will stop them. The end of these three months of negotiations will indicate to us which point we have reached," added the cleric, who heads Iran's Supreme National Security Council.

Last month the UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), decided against referring Iran to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions after Tehran agreed with the three EU states to suspend its uranium enrichment program.

Iran accepted the deal amid US threats to send the matter to the Security Council in New York. Washington alleges that the Islamic republic is secretly developing nuclear weapons, a charge vehemently denied by Tehran.

A European source has said the Iranians requested the first meeting of the steering committee -- overseeing the working groups and the agreement -- to be held at the ministerial level to give it "better visibility."

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana is also likely to attend Monday's session.

Enrichment main concern

Arbeiter in einer iranischen Kernenergieanlage

Workers at Iran's Isfahan nuclear facility

Enrichment has been and remains at the heart of the stand-off over Iran's nuclear ambitions. Iran says it only wants to enrich uranium to low levels, so as to produce fuel for a series of atomic power stations it has yet to build. The nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) permits enrichment for peaceful purposes.

But there are fears that once the nuclear fuel cycle has been mastered by Iran, the country could choose to quit the NPT and enrich uranium to weapons grade.

The EU-3 have been seeking to engage Iran in a bid to get the country to renounce its fuel cycle work altogether, something Iran has so far refused to do.

Die Wiege der iranischen Atombombe

Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran

European diplomats also say that their diplomatic effort is only guaranteed of a success if the United States, which has no diplomatic relations with Iran, joins the talks in some capacity and offers Iran the security guarantees it is after. But according to a report in The New York Times, US national security adviser and secretary of state designate Condoleezza Rice has not been convinced of a need to change US policy towards Iran.

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