Will Europe act decisively....or continue to debate?
Iran Given Last Chance to Halt Uranium Enrichment
By Louis Charbonneau
VIENNA (Reuters) - Senior officials from France, Britain and Germany will meet Iran's top nuclear negotiator in Vienna Thursday to offer Tehran a final chance to halt uranium enrichment plans or face possible U.N. sanctions.
"This Thursday, there will be a meeting of our political directors," British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw told a London news conference with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer.
"What will be sought Thursday will be discussions about Iran's compliance -- not with any conditions laid down by the three of us, but by the (International Atomic Energy Agency) board of governors," he said. "A proposal will be put to them."
Last month, the IAEA board passed a resolution demanding that Iran freeze its uranium enrichment activities -- procedures that could produce fuel for nuclear weapons -- but Tehran rejected the demand as illegal.
Officials in Tehran said negotiator Hassan Rohani, secretary-general of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, would travel to Italy Tuesday evening. It was unclear what his itinerary would be prior to Thursday's meeting in Vienna.
Gholamreza Aghazadeh, head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, said Iran was determined to press ahead with its atomic plans and would not give up its right to enrich uranium.
"We will review the Europeans' proposal only if it respects Iran's right (to master the nuclear fuel cycle)," Aghazadeh told state television.
The process of enriching uranium increases the concentration of an especially radioactive isotope in the metal, resulting in a product usable in nuclear power plants or weapons.
Tehran says it wants to produce low-enriched uranium fuel only for power generation, but Washington says it has a covert plan to produce highly enriched fuel for atomic weapons.
Diplomats said the meeting between Rohani and the European political directors would take place in Vienna, where the IAEA has its headquarters. But they said the IAEA would not be directly involved in the talks.
The IAEA has been investigating Iran's nuclear program for more than two years. While it has uncovered many previously hidden activities that could be related to a weapons program, it has found no "smoking gun" to support U.S. allegations Tehran has an active atom bomb program.
"VERY SERIOUS SITUATION"
If Iran rejects the EU offer, diplomats in Vienna say most European states would back U.S. demands that Tehran be reported to the U.N. Security Council when the IAEA meets in November.
"We hope very much this matter can be resolved finally within the board of governors and not referred to the U.N., but only time will tell," Straw said.
Fischer emphasized that suspending uranium enrichment was something Iran had already promised the EU trio in October 2003.
"Let me use this opportunity to appeal once again to the leadership of Iran to fulfill its commitments and to avoid miscalculation which will lead us into a very serious situation," Fischer added.
This meeting follows Friday's session of the Group of Eight (G8) industrial nations, where the European Union (news - web sites) presented its plans to use a "carrots and sticks" approach with Tehran, offering incentives in exchange for a verified suspension and eventual termination of uranium enrichment.
One Western diplomat said that at Friday's G8 meeting, the U.S. response to the EU was one of deep skepticism about whether Iran would comply with the terms of the deal, which is aimed at cutting off Iran's ability to make bomb-grade uranium.
"Neither the Russians nor the Americans actively support the EU three deal," said one Western diplomat about the G8 meeting.
(Additional reporting by Katherine Baldwin in London and Parisa Hafezi and Paul Hughes in Tehran)