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EU grants Iran talks before IAEA meet, not optimistic

Written by: Staff

VIENNA, March 2 (Reuters) EU powers said today they had agreed to last-minute talks with Iran tomorrow before a UN nuclear watchdog meeting that could spawn UN Security Council steps against Tehran over concerns it seeks atom bombs.

But ''EU3'' diplomats held out scant hope of a breakthrough in their first direct contact with Iran since December, noting Tehran was defiantly accelerating uranium enrichment work and declining to embrace a Russian proposal to defuse the crisis.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani, fresh from inconclusive talks in Moscow on an offer to enrich uranium for Iran in Russia to pre-empt diversions into bombmaking, announced he would see British, French and German envoys before March 6.

That is the date when the International Atomic Energy Agency's board of governors will meet to weigh a report by the IAEA chief saying essentially that Iran had ignored a February 4 board call to re-suspend enrichment work to regain world trust.

Instead Iran is test-feeding uranium gas into centrifuges, which purify it into fuel for nuclear reactors or, potentially, bombs, and plans to start installing 3,000 centrifuges later this year in a thrust towards ''industrial-scale'' enrichment.

Tehran denies Western suspicions of a covert bomb project and the IAEA has found no hard proof arms are being developed.

Iran says it wants only nuclear-generated electricity but it hid atomic work for 18 years and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has publicly called for Israel's destruction.

Britain and Germany confirmed a meeting of foreign ministers with Larijani was set for tomorrow in Vienna at his request.

''We will listen to what Iran has to say but we have no new proposals,'' said a British Foreign Office spokesman.

EU3 diplomats said Larijani would be again told Iran must return to complete suspension of enrichment-related work including conversions of uranium ore, the first step in the process, to win fresh negotiations on trade incentives.

An EU3 diplomat, who like others asked not to be identified due to the subject's delicacy, said his side was ''not optimistic there will be any outcome, not least because there has clearly been no breakthrough with Russia''.

''We agreed to this meeting only reluctantly. But we decided to show the EU3 format is still on the table since Iran had pronounced it dead,'' said another EU3 diplomat in Vienna.

Larijani said Iran sought another hearing with the EU as ''we believe our programmes are clear and defensible'' but warned Russia's proposal would die if the Security Council intervened.


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