Iranian and European officials didn't reach a deal Thursday, but Tehran will consider an EU offer which will enable it to receive nuclear technology in exchange for abandoning its weapons program.
Iran's Bushehr nuclear power plant, southwest of Tehran
Iran will pursue talks in a few days with Europe's three major powers, an Iranian official said in Vienna Thursday after Britain, France and Germany asked Tehran to reassure the world that it was not secretly developing atomic weapons.
"We are at an initial stage, matters have to be considered on both sides," said Sirus Naseri, a consultant to the Iranian delegation. Speaking to reporters after the two sides met for three hours in Vienna, Naseri said: "What has been agreed is that we will continue the dialogue." He added, "I think we'll get together in a matter of a few days." Naseri said the next meeting might also be in Vienna.
According to a confidential text obtained by news agency AFP and confirmed by diplomats in Vienna, Britain, France and Germany are offering valuable nuclear technology if Tehran complies and threatening possible UN sanctions if it does not.
This carrot-and-stick approach would include a light-water reactor if Iran indefinitely suspends all uranium enrichment activities.
Naseri said Iran wanted "to have a clear view about what the end game is." He said the Europeans were reacting to a proposal Iran had made in September for a global solution to Tehran's problems with Western nations, including security agreements for the Middle East.
"Both sides have been talking about trying to come to a
negotiated agreement which will be on the basis of a win-win situation for both sides and be acceptable to both sides," Naseri said.
However, he refused to say whether Iran would honor an IAEA deadline for Tehran to immediately halt all uranium enrichment activities. "There is no time line, no deadline whatsoever in any form or matter as far as Iran is concerned," Naseri said.
Pirooz Hosseini, Iran's ambassador to the UN nuclear watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), told AFP earlier that Iran expected to hear a proposal from the European trio but that no decision would be reached Thursday. "We have to receive the text and then take it back to our capital and see if it is approved, and if it is not approved, then that is another story," he said.
A chance to come clean
The meeting was designed to give Iran a last chance to come clean before the IAEA decides on Nov. 25 whether Iran is cooperating or not.
Iran refused Wednesday to give up on producing enriched uranium, which is the process used to make fuel for civilian reactors but also the explosive core of nuclear weapons.
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, right, shakes hands with French Foreign Minister, Dominique De Villepin, as British Foreign Minister, Jack Straw, looks on, during more cordial times last year.
"We demand respect for our rights to have nuclear technology for civilian use," President Mohammad Khatami said, while adding that Tehran was open to "dialogue and negotiation."
The United States wants the IAEA to send Iran to the UN Security Council, which could impose punitive sanctions. The IAEA has been investigating Iran since February 2003 on US claims that the Islamic Republic has a covert nuclear weapons program.
Europeans favor "constructive engagement"
But the European trio have so far opposed this strategy, favoring instead a policy of "constructive engagement" to get Tehran to cooperate.
They reached an agreement with Iran in October 2003 to suspend uranium enrichment. But this did not include support activities such as building centrifuges and making the feed gas for the enrichment process.
Iranian President Mohammad Khatami, right, and German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer at a meeting in Tehran in 2001.
The Europeans are now ready to promise Iran a range of measures, including access to nuclear fuel for its civilian reactors and recognizing Iran's right to a peaceful nuclear power program, according to a seven-page confidential paper the trio presented to the G8 group of industrialized nations last week in Washington.
"We would support the acquisition by Iran of a light water research reactor," the paper said, adding that the EU would "be ready to resume negotiations on an EU/Iran trade and cooperation agreement," and back Russia's building of a nuclear reactor for Iran.
The Europeans also promised help on a range of "political and security issues," saying they would continue to regard the main Iranian resistance group the People's Mojehidin (MEK) "as a terrorist organization."
If Iran does not carry out a full, verified suspension of enrichment, the European trio would join the United States in calling for it to be hauled before the Security Council, the confidential paper said.
The Europeans said they were prepared to go even further and "if an initial political call to Iran were not successful, the Security Council could then consider making the suspension mandatory. "It could also consider strengthening the powers of the IAEA to carry out inspections in Iran," the document added.
The next step would be sanctions under Article 41 of the UN charter, the Europeans said, adding however that "we do not need to consider that in more detail at this stage.