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EU spurned Iranian offer to defuse atom crisis-dips

Written by: Staff
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VIENNA, March 4 (Reuters) Iran offered EU powers to avoid industrial-scale nuclear fuel enrichment for two years while continuing research, but was told that would not allay concerns that Tehran secretly wants atom bombs, diplomats said.

''Larijani's offer was no basis for a compromise,'' one diplomat said, referring to chief Iranian negotiator, Ali Larijani. ''The offer made no sense to us.'' The failure of yesterday's Vienna encounter between Iran and foreign ministers and top diplomats from Germany, France and Britain paves the way for possible UN Security Council action against Iran after a UN nuclear watchdog meeting next week.

The EU leaders said Larijani offered nothing that could underpin a solution to the crisis, but that he displayed a more conciliatory, constructive tone than the defiance of the past.

EU3 diplomats said Larijani offered a two-year moratorium on efforts to establish commercial-scale production of enriched uranium, the fuel for civilian nuclear power reactors or, if purified to a high level, weapons.

Larijani further said Iran would again permit short-notice inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency that it barred in retaliation for a February. 4 vote of the IAEA's governing board to report Tehran to the Security Council.

He also repeated that Iran's pilot enrichment project, shelved for 2-1/2 years under Western pressure but relaunched last month with testing of 20 centrifuge machines that enrich uranium UF6 gas into fuel, was untouchable.

An Iranian diplomat close to the talks said there was ''a high possibility to reach an agreement with the EU3'' based on Larijani's overture, three days before the IAEA board convenes in a likely precursor to Security Council involvement.

But an EU3 diplomat said the offer to shelve industrial scale enrichment -- involving many thousands of centrifuges -- for two years was irrelevant since Iran is seen as unlikely to reach that technological threshold before 2009 anyway.

Another EU3 diplomat said Iran would inevitably master the means to build a nuclear arsenal -- if indeed it aspired to one -- if Tehran pursued so-called ''research and development'' at its underground Natanz enrichment plant.

MORE REUTERS PM PM2339

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