• Tehran - the EU sanctions have contributed to instability in the Iranian rial (Photo: kamshots)

EU diplomats aim for Iran nuclear talks next month

23.11.12 @ 14:05

  1. By Andrew Rettman
  2. Andrew email

BRUSSELS - The world's top military powers and Iran aim to restart talks on nuclear proliferation in December or January.

The negotiators - led by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Iranian diplomat Saeed Jalili - last met in Moscow in June.

But Iran declined the international offer - to stop enriching uranium to near weapons grade, to hand over its stockpile and to close one enrichment site, in return for outside supplies of nuclear fuel.

In the meantime, Israel's leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, has on the UN podium in New York threatened war if Iran crosses his enrichment red line.

The EU has piled on extra sanctions.

And US President Barack Obama got re-elected, removing the spectre of a hawkish Republican administration taking the talks back to square one.

A diplomatic source from the so-called E3+3 group - China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK and the US - told EUobserver that when it met for internal talks in Brussels on Wednesday (21 November) it agreed to contact Tehran by phone in the next few days to set up an Ashton-Jallili meeting.

The contact said they will aim for December, but it might take until January to agree a venue.

Another diplomatic source said the group hopes Iran will be more willing to make concessions because of prospects of better US relations in Obama's second term.

"We want to see where we stand with Iran after the US elections," the contact said.

Officially speaking, the E3+3 offer has not changed.

US spokesman Mark Toner this week told press: "The ball's in Iran's court." EU spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic told this website: "The proposal is well known ... and that's where we are at the moment."

But experts, such as Mark Fitzpatrick from the London-based think tank, the Institute of International Strategic Studies, believe there is room for manouevre.

Fitzpatrick wrote in August that if Iran froze enrichment at its Fordow plant and converted its uranium stockpile into a less weapon-usable form, the EU should consider relaxing sanctions.

For its part, Iran still wants the big powers to formally recognise its right to enrich uranium.

The step might see little immediate change in terms of activity on the ground.

But it would mean a watershed in world affairs - recognition that Iran is a legitimate regional power, whose views on the future of Israel/Palestine and its interests in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and in the oil-producing Gulf region have to be respected.

Amid the diplomatic niceties of the E3+3 format, the main line of confrontation is the Iran-US-Israel axis.

The US and Israel have demonized Iran as a terrorist state ever since Islamist leaders kicked out a US puppet administration in 1979.

Meanwhile, Iran has demonized Israel as an artificial US protectorate whose days are numbered.

Iranian and US delegates sit in the same room during E3+3 talks.

But Iranians are unwilling to hold a bilateral meeting with the US until Washington takes the big decision on Iran's political status.

For its part, Iran believes it is in a strong position ahead of the mooted December/January meeting because of Egypt.

E3+3 diplomats say the non-proliferation talks are a "technical" discussion which is separate from broader events.

But for Tehran, the nuclear talks are all about the balance of power in the Middle East, with the US and Israel losing an important ally when pro-Western Egyptian dictator, Hosni Mubarak, was replaced by Islamist President Mohamed Morsi in the Arab Spring.

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