Monday, October 12, 2009

Crucial Nuclear Talks Scheduled for 19 October in Vienna

The second round of negotiations between the major powers (P5+1) and Iran are due on 19 October in Vienna. On the agenda is a proposal to send 80% of Iran’s stockpile of low-enriched uranium, processed in Natanz, to Russia and France for further enrichment for use in a research nuclear reactor in Tehran. The higher-grade enriched uranium will be used to replenish dwindling fuel stocks the Tehran reactor that produces isotopes for cancer care.

“There are 150 hospitals dependent on this reactor. We want to receive this fuel from outside. That's why we are going to have the meeting and we hope that we'll reach an agreement,” Iranian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hassan Qashqavi said [Fars News Agency, 12 October].

Iran has suggested that it may embark on further enrichment by itself if it could not come to an early agreement with the major powers. Iran needs uranium refined to a purity of 20 percent for the Tehran reactor, from the 3.5 percent power-plant grade uranium it now produces in Natanz. A purity of 90 percent and higher is needed to provide material for nuclear bombs.

Qashqavi today also dismissed US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s recent statement that the major powers would not wait forever for Tehran to come up with a new agreement with the West on its nuclear program. Any threats deadline, said Qashqavi, would not have any impact on the Islamic Republic.

The threats and counter-threats are seen as pre-negotiation positioning by the countries involved in the upcoming Vienna talks. British Foreign Secretary David Miliband said in London that Iran would never have a better opportunity to establish normal ties with the West. Progress in negotiations that started in Geneva at the beginning of this month is seen as heading off calls by US and the West to impose tougher sanctions on Iran for its continued uranium enrichment activities.

The Iranian government has also emphasized the critical importance of the 19 October talks in Vienna. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday called the upcoming talks a “test” for future cooperation with the West.

“The Oct. 19 meeting is a test for fruitful cooperation in the future," Ahmadinejad said. "Failure of the meeting and imposing sanctions on Iran would hurt the West more than Iran.” [Fars News Agency, 11 October].

On a related development, a joint US-Israeli military exercise scheduled for 12-16 October was postponed to 20 October, the day after the Vienna talks with Iran. The move would avoid creating tensions with Iran on the eve of the important nuclear talks. The biggest yet of the annual Juniper Cobra exercise was to include 17 naval ships and ground personnel operating the Aegis, THAAD and Patriot missile shields meshed with Israel's Arrow II interceptor. Admiral Mark Fitzgerald, commander of the US Sixth Fleet, would oversee the drill.

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