TEHRAN (Reuters) – Iran expects its nuclear talks with the European Union, which broke down in August, to resume after this week”s board meeting of the U.N.”s nuclear watchdog, Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said on Wednesday.
"The atmosphere exists for such negotiations to be held after the Vienna meeting" of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Mottaki told a news conference.
A fresh round of talks would ease diplomatic pressure on Iran, which has adopted a tougher stance on the nuclear issue since President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad took office in August.
The IAEA board meeting is due to start on Thursday with diplomats predicting there will be no push this time by Washington and the EU to send Iran”s case to the U.N. Security Council, where Tehran could face sanctions.
Diplomats in Vienna told Reuters on Tuesday that EU negotiations with Iran could be held on December 6.
They said discussions would focus on a proposal that Iran transfer to Russia all of its uranium enrichment — a process that can be used to make atomic bombs.
Mottaki said he had spoken by telephone with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw on Tuesday night to discuss resuming talks which collapsed when Iran broke U.N. seals at its Isfahan nuclear facility and began the "conversion" of uranium ore, a step preceding enrichment.
"We discussed the outlines of such talks. Our colleagues are supposed to finalize the time for starting negotiations, the level, and the place," he said.
Mottaki noted that Tehran this month wrote to EU lead negotiators Britain, Germany and France inviting them to resume the nuclear talks. The EU trio have not formally replied.
"The negotiations should be purposeful, beneficial and within a logical timeframe," he said.
NPT CONFERS RIGHTS, IRAN SAYS
But Mottaki stressed Iran had the right as a signatory of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to develop a full civilian nuclear energy program.
"It is natural that we are after this right within the Islamic Republic of Iran," he said, suggesting that Iran would not accept any proposal that barred it from enriching uranium on its own territory.
Iran says its nuclear technology will never be used to make atomic bombs. But its past concealment of potentially weapons-related atomic work has caused concern in the West.
A key stumbling block to the resumption of negotiations with the EU has been Tehran”s refusal to mothball the Isfahan Uranium Conversion Facility, which produces a gas that when enriched can be used to make atomic reactor or weapons-grade fuel.
Iran last week confirmed it had begun processing a fresh batch of uranium ore at Isfahan.
Mottaki denied rumors circulating in Vienna that work at Isfahan had been temporarily suspended.
"Isfahan is continuing its activities, there is no suspension," he said in reply to a reporter”s question.
Sources at Iran”s Supreme National Security Council have told news agencies in recent days that Isfahan will be halted after the IAEA board meeting for 15 days of routine repairs.
Diplomats in Vienna have speculated that Iran may be prepared to halt uranium conversion temporarily to allow talks with the EU to resume.