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Nuclear Stalemate

DW staff (sp)July 20, 2008

The deputy to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said that Iran was now a friend of the US and Israel, Iranian news agencies reported Sunday, July 20 -- a day after nuclear negotiations with the West came to nothing.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad
Ahmadinejad has given a very different message on Israel and the US in the pastImage: AP

"Iran wants no war with any country, and today Iran is friend of the United States and even Israel. ... Our achievements belong to the whole world and should be used for expanding love and peace," said Iranian Vice-President Esfandiar Rahim-Mashaei, who is also head of the Cultural Heritage Organization.

The Cultural Heritage Organization news agency quoted him as saying that even during the eight-year war against Iraq (1980-88), Iran just defended itself against the military invasion by former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

The remarks by the vice-president followed last week's warnings by some Iranian officials that Tehran's long-range missiles could target the Jewish state if the US and Israel realized their threats to attack Iran's nuclear sites.

Ahmadinejad himself caused international uproar with his anti- Israeli tirades, voicing hope for eradication of Israel from the Middle East, demanding its relocation to Europe or Alaska and doubting the historic dimension of the Holocaust during World War II.

After a day of high-level talks in Geneva between Iran and representatives of the five UN veto powers and Germany on Saturday, July 19, the European Union's Foreign Policy Chief Javier Solana said not enough progress had been made to persuade Tehran to suspend uranium enrichment.

"There is always progress in these talks, but insufficient," and the international community was still waiting for Iran's response to a proposed package of incentives for Tehran to give up its nuclear programme, Solana said.

"It was a constructive meeting, but still we didn't get the answer to our questions," said Solana, who added he hoped for an answer from Tehran in two weeks.

A "freeze for freeze" approach

Western countries have slapped several sets of sanctions on Tehran over its refusal to halt enrichment which it believes is meant to develop nuclear weapons. Iran vehemently denies seeking nuclear weapons, insisting that its program is designed to provide energy for its growing population for the time when its reserves of fossil fuels run out.

The meeting on Saturday in Geneva was supposed to talk about future cooperation in the areas of economy, nuclear energy and politics, once Tehran halts its nuclear activities. It was also meant to pave the way to full negotiations possible by squaring the world powers' precondition of nuclear suspension with Iran's insistence on its right to civilian nuclear energy.

A technician in an Iranian nuclear power plant
The West suspects Iran of covertly developing a nuclear programImage: AP

Britain, France, Germany, the United States, Russia and China are offering Iran a "freeze for freeze" approach. In a pre-negotiation phase, Tehran would not expand its enrichment facility in Natanz, while the six nations would not press for additional Security Council sanctions.

After confidence between the two sides has been established in this phase, Iran would halt its uranium enrichment, and comprehensive talks about the world powers' offer of cooperation and similar package put forward by Iran could start.

Iran refuses to play along

But Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili after talks in Geneva that in any next round of talks Iran was not ready to discuss a freeze in enrichment proposed by the "sextet" in return for the UN Security Council halting further sanctions measures.

"We will only discuss common points of the package," Jalili told Reuters.

He described the talks as "constructive and progressing" in comments to reporters afterwards. "There are points in common and points that are not in common," Jalili said. "We have agreed to discuss this."

The Iranian nuclear negotiator compared the diplomatic process to weaving traditional Persian carpets: progress in cases "moves forward in millimetres," he said. "It's a very precise work, in certain cases it's a very beautiful endeavour and hopefully the end result, the final product would be beautiful to behold," Jalili said.

US warns Iran of further isolation

The meeting in Geneva took on added importance with the US sending a high-ranking representative, Undersecretary of State William Burns -- the first US diplomat in 30 years to participate in negotiations with Iran. Burns however did not take an active role in the talks

William Burns
Burns' participation in the talks was seen as a shift in Washington's hard-line stance towards IranImage: AP

In a statement issued after the meeting, US State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Iran has two weeks to "give a clear answer," and added: " Iran has a choice to make: negotiation or further isolation."

Burns, it said, delivered a "clear simple message" that Washington was "serious" in backing proposed international incentives for Iran to halt uranium enrichment and that it will only engage in negotiations with Iran when it does so.

"We hope the Iranian people understand that their leaders need to make a choice between cooperation, which would bring benefits to all, and confrontation, which can only lead to further isolation," the statement said.