Iran and the European Union met Wednesday to resume a nuclear dialogue broken off in August, with Tehran insisting on its right to make fuel that the West fears could be used to manufacture atom bombs.
President Ahmadinejad is holding a hard line in all dealings with the West
Iranian National Security Council official Javad Vaidi told reporters as the two sides paused for lunch that the meeting "was a good opportunity to know each other's point of view."
But Western diplomats earlier warned that hopes were slim for getting Tehran to abandon its plans to enrich uranium it says is purely to make fuel for nuclear power reactors.
The talks between foreign ministry officials from Britain, France and Germany and the Iranian delegation headed by Vaidi are the first contact between the two sides since talks broke off in August, when Iran resumed uranium conversion.
Conversion is the first step in making enriched uranium, and while Tehran has so far gone no further it made clear Wednesday it would not back down on the right to do so, which it claims is guaranteed under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
"From Iran's point of view the subject of the talks is to remove the suspension of the uranium processing facilities and this must happen within a clear timetable," Hossein Entezami, spokesman for Iran's Supreme National Security Council, told Iranian state radio.
Iran will insist on the right to enrich uranium on its own soil during the talks, Iran's Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki said in Tehran. "We don't want talks just for the sake of talks," Mottaki told reporters.
Iran has rejected a Russian idea to do some fuel cycle work at home while enriching uranium only on Russian soil, which would keep this sensitive activity out of the country. "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.
Iran: Isfahan "a done deal" and enrichment will resume
Enrichment at the Isfahan plant will not be stopped again, says Iran
He added that uranium ore processing would not be suspended at the Isfahan plant and that Iran intended to restart preliminary work on enrichment technology. "Isfahan is a done deal," he said. "The research and building parts for (enrichment) centrifuges are not the same as enriching uranium. When the time comes we will announce the resumption of these activities."
But Mottaki said Iran would give guarantees that enriched uranium would not be diverted for military ends. However, such statements failed to inspire much hope in western diplomats.
"The problem is, Iran's hardliners were encouraged to believe they could inch forward towards enrichment when they managed to restart uranium processing without provoking a referral to the U.N. Security Council," one diplomat said.
Ahmadinejad's stance makes progress difficult
The president's comments have made matters worse
The tough stance comes at a time when Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has raised an international outcry through a series of statements against Israel, notably his remark in October that the Jewish state should be wiped off the map.
"It won't be easy," a diplomat from one of the so-called EU-3 states told AFP, saying the chances of getting Iran to guarantee it will not make nuclear weapons by agreeing to give up enrichment were "not very bright".
The diplomat noted that the two sides have not actually sat down together since April and that the Iranian government has changed since then. "There is a complete new set of people on the Iranian side, so it's going to be interesting, and a little bit unpredictable," the diplomat said.
An Iranian diplomat said the talks were "just preliminary, setting the platform for the next round."
Europe "realistic" about what's possible in talks
The EU-3 diplomat said the Europeans are ready to be "realistic and distinguish between what is desirable and what is possible," namely accepting some fuel cycle work but drawing the line at enrichment.
The fear is that Iran is pursuing a nuclear warhead for its missiles
The meeting was scheduled to be "talks about talks" to set the stage for a resumption of formal negotiations for a guarantee Tehran will not make nuclear weapons.
A breakdown at this stage could spark a push by the Europeans and the United States, which backs the EU-3 initiative but is not attending the negotiations, to send the issue to the UN Security Council for possible sanctions against Iran.
The United States argues that Iran cannot be trusted to carry out enrichment since this process gives nations a "break-out capacity" to make nuclear weapons.
Iran wants to at least be allowed to do research on centrifuges that carry out enrichment.
Russian involvement complicates UN route
"The real diplomatic work at the moment is trying to bring the Russians on board so we can take this to the Security Council," an EU-3 diplomat said.
Russia, which has a veto on the Council, is building Iran's first nuclear power reactor and says there is no sign Iran seeks atomic weapons. It is almost certain to resist this pressure.