Positives come from nuclear talks

02 October 2009

Yesterday's talks on the Iranian nuclear program saw that country's first one-on-one with the USA for many years as well as a solution to a problem concerning fuel for a research reactor.


US officials said the day-long meeting in Geneva, Switzerland was free-flowing and included an informal lunch. Present were top-level civil servants and nuclear negotiators from China, France, Germany, Iran, Russia, the UK and the USA.


The day was meant to foster new engagement and progress in alleviating concerns over Iran's uranium enrichment program, which is now known to include a new facility at Qom. Iran has the right to enrich uranium for peaceful purposes, but the secretive nature of the beginnings of its program - as well as subsequent uncooperative behaviour and the revelation of Qom - raises the concern that its real intention is to make nuclear weapons. Ahead of the talks, American officials said they believed that Iranian leaders realised knowledge of the secret underground plant had spread among Western powers and so they chose to reveal it voluntarily before being exposed.


Now, the US said, the burden of proof lies with Iran to prove its purely peaceful intentions with practical steps and engagement in an intensive diplomatic process. The two countries had 45 minutes alone for a "direct and candid discussion" on the nuclear issues as well as other topics, including human rights.


In a statement, the rest of the 'E3+3' group welcomed the change in US stance toward Iran while reminding the latter that it remained the subject of five UN Security Council resolutions and that a "serious response" was now expected.


Perhaps as an incentive to Iran, a solution was agreed to a problem facing the operators of a research reactor in Tehran, which will require refuelling in under 18 months.


It has been agreed in principle to take Iranian stocks of uranium enriched to 3.5% uranium-235 to Russia for further enrichment to the required level of 19.75%. Next, France will organise for this material to be manufactured into fuel elements for the reactor, which is used to make medical isotopes.


The exact details of the plan will be worked out at a meeting in Vienna, Austria on 18 October, but it was said that a major advantage of the scheme would be a significant reduction in Iran's low-enriched uranium stockpile.


In the meantime, International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei has been invited to Tehran. Inspectors have been promised access to Qom and ElBaradei will be keen to secure that as soon as possible.