BRUSSELS (AFP) – Major world powers met in Brussels Friday to discuss Iran’s rejection of an international nuclear fuel deal, after US President Barack Obama warned Tehran must face the consequences.
Representatives of the five permanent UN Security Council members — Britain, China, France, Russia and the United States — plus Germany met behind closed doors as part of their long-running goal of persuading Iran to curb its nuclear ambitions.
Officials declined to say whether the six would respond to Tehran’s move, with EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana’s spokeswoman saying only that “the meeting is to review the latest developments on the Iran nuclear issue.”
Many in the West suspect that the Islamic republic is covertly trying to build a nuclear weapon. Tehran insists it is only developing a civil energy programme, and has rejected attempts to force it to stop uranium enrichment.
In an attempt to draw Iran into talks and guarantee that its nuclear ambitions are peaceful, the six have offered to reprocess some of its low-enriched uranium abroad.
But on Wednesday, Iran rejected those plans, involving more than 70 percent of its stock of low-enriched uranium (LEU) abroad, brokered by the UN atomic watchdog the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
The LEU would have been converted into nuclear fuel and returned to Iran to power a research reactor in Tehran. Very highly refined uranium can be used to fuel an atomic bomb.
It also hit out at the United States, leaving little optimism that the long-running standoff can be ended anytime soon, and raising the spectre of an new set of sanctions against Iran.
Russia played down those prospects, but France ruled out further talks sought by Iran on technical aspects of the deal.
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, meanwhile, again went on the offensive against Washington.
“If our nation sees they have changed their behaviour, dropped their arrogant attitude … and return Iranian nation’s rights and assets, the nation will accept that,” he said in a televised speech.
Obama has pursued a carrot-and-stick policy, offering diplomatic engagement but also threatening tougher sanctions if Iran does not come clean over its atomic programme.
Washington froze Iranian government assets in 1979 after Islamist militants stormed the US embassy in Tehran and took its staff hostage, which led to the scrapping of diplomatic relations in 1980.
Iran has refused to halt enrichment despite three sets of UN sanctions and it drew outrage in the West by disclosing in September a new enrichment plant, Fordo, which is being built inside a mountain near the holy city of Qom.
Iran’s Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki said Tehran wants more talks and is prepared to consider a simultaneous exchange of uranium for fuel for its Tehran reactor.
But the IAEA has already said that such an exchange is unacceptable to the Western powers, who have tired of Iran’s continued brinksmanship, and alleged lack of good faith.