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Monday, September 11, 2006

Iran offers to freeze uranium enrichment for eight weeks

Monday September 11, 2006
The Guardian

Iran offered to freeze its uranium enrichment programme yesterday for eight weeks in what looked like a successful tactic aimed at delaying consideration of international sanctions.

In talks at the weekend in Vienna between Iran's national security chief, Ali Larijani, and the European Union's foreign policy supremo, Javier Solana, Tehran appeared to concede enough to prevent a quick move to sanctions by the UN security council.

Washington is pressing for a swift decision on sanctions after Tehran failed to meet the terms of a security council resolution requiring it to freeze its uranium enrichment activities in order to resume negotiations with the west, Russia and China. The weekend talks in Vienna were seen as a final chance to avert a bigger confrontation. But EU officials said yesterday that there would be further talks as a result of the weekend session.

Both sides talked up the positive aspects, suggesting that the Iranians had given way enough to avoid any prompt resort to sanctions. Mr Larijani said the talks had resulted in "a common point of view on many issues", and Mr Solana agreed that they had been "worth it" and "positive". The upbeat talk contrasted with meetings in recent weeks described by diplomats as a dialogue of the deaf.

In telephone diplomacy starting today, Washington is hoping to coax the EU, Russia and China towards supporting penalties against Iran, but the chances of any quick decision look remote.

The offer of a two-month freeze on uranium enrichment is a symbolic move, politically shrewd but of little significance to Iran's nuclear programme.

Tehran insists its nuclear programme, based on the uranium enrichment, is entirely peaceful. The US and Britain suspect that the programme is a cover for developing an indigenous bomb project.

The EU, Russia, China and the US have offered Iran a package of economic, trade, political and nuclear incentives if it shelves its enrichment activities, but Tehran says it is willing to negotiate on the offer only without any preconditions.

Negotiations are to continue this week while the board of the International Atomic Energy Agency meets in Vienna to discuss Iran's nuclear activities.
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