Iran requests fresh talks

Iran on Sunday formally asked Britain, France and Germany to reopen negotiations on giving the Islamic republic trade and other benefits in exchange for guarantees its nuclear program is peaceful, Iranian news agencies said.

Iran’s top nuclear official Ali Larijani has sent the countries’ foreign ministers a letter “insisting on the necessity of negotiations,” the official IRNA news agency said.

In the letter, Mr Larijani said Iran would “welcome negotiations that are constructive and based on logic”, the first such approach since he took over the nuclear file after hardliner Mahmoud Ahmadinejad became president in June.

But the letter also insisted on “Iran’s need to exercise its legitimate rights and to see its national interests guaranteed,” agencies said, an apparent reference to Iran’s intention to start fresh nuclear fuel work.

‘Unacceptable’

While no official response has been issued yet, an EU diplomat said Iran’s request for talks was unacceptable because Iran had refused requests to suspend uranium fuel work.

In London, a spokesman for the Foreign Office said: “We are not going to comment on that. We are still considering our response.” There was no immediate reaction from Paris and Berlin.

Negotiations between Iran and the so-called EU-3 broke off in August when Iran resumed uranium conversion activities in defiance of international calls for a suspension.

Uranium conversion is a prelude to making enriched uranium, which is used for fuel for nuclear power reactors, and also for the explosive core of atom bombs.

Iran said on Sunday that it would be converting a fresh batch of uranium ore, in a flagrant rejection of calls to halt the work.

“We have told the (International Atomic Energy) Agency (IAEA) that we are going to inject new initial materials (uranium ore) into the production chain,” Javad Vaidi, an official from Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, told state television. The work would take place at a conversion plant in Isfahan in central Iran.

Iran says it only wishes to enrich to the low-level purity required for reactor fuel.

The EU-3 has attempted to persuade Iran to permanently suspend uranium enrichment as a watertight guarantee that its nuclear program is peaceful.

But Iran insists its right to enrichment is enshrined in both the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) and its additional protocol.

An EU diplomat, who asked not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue, said Iran’s intended resumption of uranium conversion was “not the right basis for re-starting the negotiations.”

Another diplomat, also from an EU-3 country, said the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) “has called for Iran to suspend conversion at Isfahan, and until the Iranians do that it’s hard to see how negotiations can take place.”

Iran faces the risk of referral to the UN Security Council over its atomic program, after the IAEA in September found it to be in “non-compliance” with the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

The IAEA is to meet on the matter on November 24 and is expected to put off deciding on Iran until a later meeting.

US concerns

The United States, meanwhile, will contact EU diplomats about Iran’s request to renew talks.

“We will be in touch with the EU-3 on Monday morning so we can become fully informed about the letter’s content but until we are in touch with the EU-3 we are going to withhold comment,” State Department spokesperson Justin Higgins told news agency AFP.