Iran sticks to nuclear ‘rights’ as talks stall

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Differences on whether Iran has the right to enrich uranium that could be used to make nuclear weapons appeared to be a key sticking point as two top negotiators resumed efforts to reach a deal at talks in Geneva.

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s top diplomat, have met repeatedly since Wednesday to hammer out language on a nuclear deal acceptable to both Tehran and six world powers trying to limit Iran’s nuclear programme in return for concessions on sanctions.

The negotiations were supposed to be held between the six and Tehran, but those talks have been put on hold except for a brief meeting on Wednesday. Instead, Mr Zarif and Lady Ashton have met repeatedly seeking to agree on a text that she would take to the six for approval.

The two met again briefly on Friday for talks that Iran’s official IRNA news agency described as “complicated and tough.” It quoted Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi in Geneva saying that Iran’s right to uranium enrichment must be part of any deal.

Iran says it is enriching only for reactor fuel, medical uses and research. But the technology can also produce nuclear warhead material.

Mr Zarif had last weekend indicated that Iran is ready to sign a deal that does not expressly state Iran’s right to enrich, raising hopes that a deal could be sealed at the current Geneva round.

On Wednesday, however, Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said his country would never compromise on “red lines.” Since then Tehran has reverted to its original line – that the six powers must recognise this activity as Iran’s right under the nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty despite strong opposition by Israel and within the US Congress.

The United States and its allies suggest they are ready to ease some sanctions in return for limits on Iran’s nuclear programme. But they insist that the most severe penalties will remain until the two sides reach a comprehensive agreement to minimise Iran’s nuclear arms-making capacity.