IRAN: No progress, no movement, no nothin' on deadlocked talks over nuclear program
An informal Dec. 31 deadline set by the Obama administration came and went, but little progress has been made in breaking the logjam over Iran's nuclear program one way or the other.
Tehran appeared to deny reports by some Western news agencies that it had even submitted a formal counterproposal to the once-ballyhooed proposal to swap Iran's enriched uranium for nuclear fuel plates for a medical research reactor that's about to sputter out."Iran has offered no new proposal concerning the supply of fuel to the Tehran research reactor," Mehr news agency quoted Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast as saying today, in a report cited by the website of Iran's state-owned Press TV channel. "Our views are the same as what was previously announced and basically there has been no new development regarding the issue."
A spokesman for the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency, the United Nations' nuclear watchdog, also told The Times there had been no new developments since the new year.
"The proposal made by the IAEA in October 2009, which was supported by France, Russia and the United States, continues to be on the table," Gill Tudor, a spokesman for the agency, said in reference to the fuel-swap proposal.
Western diplomats did meet with the Iranian envoy to the atomic agency over the last couple of weeks in Vienna, two Western officials told The Times.
By all accounts, the meetings went nowhere, with Iran insisting that the fuel swap take place on Iranian soil, a change to the original proposal that would negate its purpose of bringing Iran's fuel supply down below the threshold necessary to make a single nuclear bomb.
One diplomat said no one's quite sure whether Iran's response at the meetings was a "final answer" or whether negotiations could continue.
Another Western diplomat told The Times that Iran was playing games to ease pressure on itself and avoid further sanctions.
Among the diplomats in Vienna, there is already a great deal of fatigue and impatience over Iran.
There was never any real follow-up to last fall's talks in Geneva and Vienna. Diplomats say Iran agreed in principle to the Tehran research reactor proposal, then returned with what they considered an unworkable informal counterproposal and no formal reply.
Adding to the frustration for Western diplomats, over the weekend, they failed to get China to go along with pushing for a new round of U.N. Security Council sanctions.
Meanwhile, Iran's Foreign Ministry this week launched a website touting its nuclear program.
Diplomats say it's still too early to predict what may happen in the six weeks before the next meeting of the IAEA board. But if Iran fails to help resolve the issues around its nuclear program, the agency has few tools at its disposal, save for slapping Iran with another toothless censure.
-- Julia Damianova in Vienna and Borzou Daragahi in Beirut
Photo: A scene from a Tehran nuclear facility. Credit: Iran's Atomic Energy Organization website