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U.S., Iran Have 'Significant Conversation' on Sidelines of Switzerland Talks

October 01, 2009

A U.S. official at nuclear talks in Switzerland says there has been a "significant conversation" between the chief U.S. and Iranian delegates.

The meeting between U.S. Undersecretary of State William Burns and Iran's chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili took place on the sidelines of six-party talks with Iran over Tehran's controversial nuclear program.

The conversation is believed to be the highest level of direct contact between Iranian and U.S. officials since Washington severed relations with Tehran during a hostage crisis in the wake of Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Further details about what Burns and Jalili said to each other were not immediately available.

There were no immediate reports of a breakthrough on their nuclear dispute, with both sides repeating their long-held positions. But there were indications that the negotiations are being conducted in earnest -- including a report by Iran's official IRNA news agency that the talks are likely to continue on October 2.

Germany and five nuclear powers -- the United States, Britain, France, Russia, and China -- each sent representatives to a small Swiss villa at Genthod, just off Lake Geneva, for talks that began on October 1.

Western diplomats say Iranian officials told the six parties at the opening session that Tehran was not willing to discuss anything specific about its nuclear program that is of concern to the West. Instead, they say, the Iranian team would only discuss general non-proliferation and peace issues.

Javier Solana, the European Union's foreign policy chief, attended the meeting to engage directly with the Iranian negotiator. Solana's spokeswoman, Cristina Gallach, described the meeting as "cordial and businesslike" -- with the main focus on Iran's nuclear program.

She said there is goodwill on the part of the international community to have a serious relationship with Iran. But she said "important clarifications" need to be obtained from Iran.

Threats And Incentives

White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said ahead of the meeting that Tehran would face "stronger measures" if it does not respond to the issues being raised by the six powers.

"I think you've heard [Obama] and other leaders around the world say that this is not talk for talk's sake,” Gibbs said. “There is a specific agenda and specific problems that need to be dealt with, and if they are not dealt with responsibly by the Iranians, stronger measures will be developed and implemented to ensure that they do."

The six powers have said they want Iran to respond to their offer of trade and political incentives. In return, they want Iran to suspend all of its uranium enrichment activities and to improve cooperation with nuclear inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The meeting also is exploring whether Tehran would be willing to join further negotiations about its nuclear program.

Iran stands accused of using its nuclear energy program to hide an attempt to build nuclear weapons in violation of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.

Tehran denies those allegations, saying its nuclear program is entirely for the peaceful purpose of producing energy. Tehran also refuses to suspend its uranium enrichment campaign, as demanded by the UN Security Council, saying it has the sovereign right to develop nuclear energy.

The IRNA news agency reports that Jalili told Solana that Iran will not negotiate away its sovereign rights. IRNA also has reported that Iranian Foreign Minister Manuchehr Mottaki made a similar statement on September 30 when he met in Washington with two U.S. congressmen.

That report says the U.S. lawmakers asked Mottaki whether Iran would allow UN nuclear inspectors to access a new uranium enrichment plant near the Iranian city of Qom.

Waiting For Proof

The announcement last week by UN nuclear inspectors that Iran had just disclosed the existence of a second uranium enrichment facility sparked a diplomatic storm. Iran has previously declared the existence of one other uranium enrichment facility at Natanz.

Tehran insists that any material enriched at Qom or Natanz is meant for nuclear energy. But non-proliferation experts warn that the enriched uranium could be diverted to build nuclear weapons.

Gibbs, the White House spokesman, says the onus is on Iran to prove its claim that its program to create energy, rather than a secret program for nuclear weapons.

"What is undeniable is that a plant was constructed in violation of their obligations under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, something they've signed with the IAEA, as well as UN Security Council resolutions,” Gibbs said. “We will demand that IAEA inspectors have unfettered access to the facility, to personnel, to documents surrounding the facility. There's no doubt this is in violation of their own obligations to which they're a party."

British intelligence services said earlier this week they have evidence that Iran has been secretly designing a nuclear warhead since late 2004 or early 2005.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has called for a December deadline for Iran to engage in further talks or face the threat of a fourth round of UN sanctions.

But both Russia and China could veto any UN Security Council resolutions on further sanctions. Russia has hardened its language against Iran since the disclosure of the enrichment facility near Qom.

China has said it is worried about the new uranium enrichment facility. So far, however, it has stuck to its call for negotiations instead of more sanctions.

Western diplomats say both Russia and China may decide to wait for an IAEA inspection of the Qom facility and an IAEA report on it before taking further action. That report is expected to be finalized in November.


Copyright (c) 2009. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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