VIENNA (Reuters) – Senior diplomats from France, Britain and Germany will meet top Iranian officials in Vienna on Thursday to offer Tehran a final chance to halt uranium enrichment plans or face possible U.N. sanctions.
“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,” said British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
“A proposal will be put to them,” he told a news conference with German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer Tuesday.
Last month, the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog, passed a resolution demanding Iran freeze its uranium enrichment activities — procedures that could produce fuel for nuclear weapons. Tehran rejected the demand as illegal.
The United States has accused Iran of having a secret nuclear weapons program and has threatened to press for U.N. sanctions. Tehran says its nuclear efforts are only for power generation.
If Iran rejects the European Union 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.
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.
Several diplomats in Vienna said top Iranian nuclear negotiator Hassan Rohani, secretary-general of Iran’s Supreme National Security Council, would attend Thursday’s meeting with the EU’s so-called “Big Three.”
Other diplomats close to the EU-Iran talks said Rohani would not be at the meeting, where the terms of the EU offer would be laid out in a four-page document, but Tehran would still send senior representatives.
Rohani will be in Italy Tuesday evening. It was unclear what his itinerary would be while he is in Europe.
Diplomats said the IAEA, which has its headquarters in Vienna, would not be directly involved in the talks.
The process of enriching uranium increases the concentration of an especially radioactive isotope, resulting in a product usable in nuclear power plants or weapons.
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.”
At the London news conference with Straw, Fischer said that suspending uranium enrichment was something Iran had already promised the EU’s “Big Three” in October 2003.
“Let me use this opportunity to appeal once again to the leadership of Iran to fulfil its commitments and to avoid miscalculation which will lead us into a very serious situation,” said Fischer.
At a Group of Eight meeting Friday, the EU presented plans for a “carrots and sticks” approach with Iran, offering incentives in exchange for a verified suspension and eventual termination of uranium enrichment.
One Western diplomat said the U.S. response was one of deep skepticism about whether Iran would comply.