Dec. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Iran agreed to more talks on its nuclear program while saying it would “absolutely not” suspend uranium enrichment, marking the first time in a more than a year that diplomatic options for the dispute are being kept alive.
The agreement between Iran and the so-called P5+1 group -- comprising China, France, Germany, Russia, the U.K. and U.S. -- followed two days of negotiations in Geneva, European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said today after the talks ended. Diplomats said before the meetings in the Swiss city that they wanted to build a framework for more negotiations. The next talks will be held in January in Istanbul.
“We plan to discuss practical ideas and ways of cooperating toward a resolution of our core concerns about the nuclear issue,” in Istanbul, Ashton said. The Geneva round was marked by “detailed, substantial talks focusing on the Iranian nuclear program,” Ashton said, without taking questions.
Iran’s nuclear program, which has drawn four sets of United Nations sanctions, was at the center of the EU-led talks in Geneva. Iran says it’s producing enriched uranium to fuel atomic reactors. The U.S. and Europe accuse Iran of trying to build nuclear weapons.
Saeed Jalili, Iran’s envoy to the talks, told reporters that the agreement with the other parties for the January meeting doesn’t go beyond having talks “with a view to cooperation and on the basis of common ground.” Asked about Ashton’s account of the Geneva negotiations, he said other comments on the outcome of the session would be “incorrect.”
The U.S. delegation, led by Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs William Burns, had “brief and formal discussions” with the Iranian delegations over the two days, the State Department’s spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, told reporters in Washington today.
Jalili reiterated that Iran has the right, as a signatory of the international nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, to enrich uranium, saying the country will “absolutely not” agree to suspend the work. The UN estimates that Iran is producing around 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of low-enriched uranium a month.
About 630 kilograms of low-enriched uranium, if further purified, could yield the 15 to 22 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium needed by an expert bomb-maker to craft a weapon, according to the London-based Verification Research, Training and Information Center, a non-governmental observer to the International Atomic Energy Agency that is funded by European governments.
The choice of Turkey for the next meeting is significant because Iran has called on Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government in Ankara to play a more active role in the negotiations. Turkey and Brazil tried negotiating a compromise that would have given Iran fuel for a reactor in exchange for Iran exporting some of its uranium, the key element for atomic energy and weapons.
“We were open to have multiple meetings in multiple locations and certainly the decision to meet next month in Istanbul is a reflection of that,” Crowley said in a news briefing. “We are encouraged that there will be a follow-on meeting.”
Crowley said 75 percent of the meetings were on nuclear issues, including a revised fuel-swap deal.
Confidence-building measures, like increased IAEA cooperation and a swap deal, will be on the U.S. agenda at the Istanbul meeting, according to a U.S. administration official who declined to be identified because he wasn’t authorized to speak publicly about the talks. Geneva was the beginning of what the U.S. wants to be a sustained and systemic approach to negotiations, he said.
“What we need is to be crystal clear about what we want, what we ask, what we propose,” France’s Jacques Audibert, who participated in the talks, said. “We are going on with the process.”
The Geneva discussions were the first direct negotiation among the parties since Oct. 1, 2009.
“Iran has always been prepared for fair talks,” Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who called on sanctions against his country to be lifted, said today in the city of Arak.
“We recognize Iran’s rights but insist that it fulfill its obligations,” Ashton said. While Iran’s right to enrich uranium is protected under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, the UN Security Council has ordered the country to suspend its atomic work because of international suspicions.
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