ANKARA (Reuters) -The EU and Iran hold talks on Tehran’s nuclear program on Wednesday but analysts say progress is unlikely after President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad vowed not to halt the project to win a suspension of U.N. sanctions.
The formal purpose of the meeting between Iran’s top negotiator Ali Larijani and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana is to seek any scope to justify reviving formal negotiations to resolve an increasingly volatile standoff.
While Iran has said it is ready to explore guaranteeing no diversion into building atomic bombs, it has flatly ruled out suspending enrichment of uranium for nuclear fuel, a step Western powers deem essential to negotiations.
With the two sides so far apart publicly over the goal of the two-day meeting in Ankara, some analysts wondered whether they were just trying to keep dialogue going to buy time against a feared possible slide into a U.S.-Iranian conflict.
The United States has accused Iran of having a secret program to build nuclear weapons. Tehran says its nuclear program is only for electricity and is vital for its economy.
“Both sides are in a lose-lose game. Both need to find a way out, so these meetings will likely continue precisely because the current approach really doesn’t benefit any side,” said Trita Parsi, a U.S.-based Iranian commentator.
“Iran is eyeing the idea of an enrichment consortium for the Middle East placed in Iran that would provide assurances for the international community against nuclear weaponization. The EU is open to the idea but opposes the consortium being in Iran.”
Iran says it must enrich uranium for power generation so it can export more of its huge oil and gas reserves. If refined to high levels, uranium can also form the core of atomic bombs.
Tehran’s past record of hiding enrichment research from U.N. inspectors and holding up their attempts to verify the program is wholly peaceful has eroded trust abroad in Iranian intentions and led to U.N. sanctions.
Major powers — the United States, the EU, Russia and China — have offered Tehran a package of economic, civil nuclear and security incentives if it mothballs enrichment efforts.
But Tehran says the program is irreversible and the West should now accept it as a member of the nuclear club.
The talks in Turkey will be the first face-to-face session between Larijani and Solana since a second set of financial and diplomatic sanctions were imposed on Iran a month ago.
Solana, whose first attempt to break the deadlock foundered last year over Iran’s refusal to freeze uranium enrichment, said on Tuesday he hoped “we will have a good, very constructive meeting that will not be the last.”
He said he hoped for “openness” from Iran to creating common ground for serious negotiations, but added, “I don’t know.”
British Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett, at an EU meeting in Luxembourg where Solana was speaking, seemed to dampen expectations of progress in Ankara. Asked if she had seen any optimistic signs in the run-up, she said: “Not really.”
Ahmadinejad told Reuters in an interview on Monday Iran would not accept any “double suspension” — Tehran suspending enrichment and the United Nations suspending sanctions.
Iran has shown no sign of buckling to sanctions pressure.
Tehran said this month it had launched more than 1,300 centrifuges and begun feeding them with uranium for enrichment, but diplomats said it was “test-scale” and nowhere near the “industrial-scale” capacity Ahmadinejad had talked about.
Diplomats familiar with inspections by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), say Tehran will not master major enrichment technology for several years at least.
“If the (West) really wants to block progress (towards an Iranian bomb), it is easy enough to do — just start negotiating without preconditions, and let Iran save face and keep a small enrichment program, with the IAEA monitoring,” one said.