IRAN: Munich machinations continue despite skepticism of Tehran and Western leaders
Iran's foreign minister sounds as though he's ready to cut a deal with the International Atomic Energy Agency over the country's nuclear program.
Problem is, his colleagues back home don't.
During the 46th annual Munich Security Conference in Germany this weekend, diplomats hobnobbed in an attempt to resolve the dispute over Iran's nuclear program, possibly by getting Iran to agree to the once-vaunted proposal to exchange the bulk of its enriched uranium for plates to fuel a medical reactor in Tehran.
Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, who met Saturday with atomic agency chief Yukiya Amano, said negotiations continue.
"It is very common that in business the buyer talks about quantity and the seller about the price," he said. "We would inform the parties about our requirements. It may be less, it may be more" than the 2,600 pounds of uranium to be sent abroad under the terms of the proposal floated last year.
On Friday, Mottaki said, "I personally believe that we have created a conducive ground for such an exchange in the not-so-distant future. We are approaching a final agreement that can be accepted by all parties."Meanwhile, back home, hard-line news media associated with the Revolutionary Guard trashed any possibility of a nuclear swap while the powerful speaker of Iran's parliament took to the airwaves.
"The Western governments are apparently seeking to sell out Iran's enriched uranium under the pretext of its exchange with higher-enriched materials," said Ali Larijani, according to state radio.
"You are after a kind of political deception," he said, addressing the West. "You intend to swindle Iran out of its enriched materials. We are willing to buy our needed enriched fuel. Don't worry about our enriched uranium. It is clear that the West never wants to see scientific progress in Iran and Muslim states."
Still the diplomatic wrangling continues.
Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, met twice with Mottaki, the semiofficial Anatolia news agency reported, the latest in Ankara's attempts to bolster its diplomatic profile playing peacemaker between Iran and the West.
Some consider the Iranian maneuvering a clever game to distract world attention from Iran's domestic troubles and give the Chinese and Russians the diplomatic cover to avoid joining with the West in pushing tougher sanctions on Iran.
But others insist that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and those around him would love to deliver a deal, and being thwarted by more powerful hard-liners in the political establishment in Tehran.
"I'm sure Iranian leaders are divided about the nuclear fuel exchange deal," said one astute Tehran analyst. "Ahmadinejad and Mottaki have given the green light for the deal to go ahead, while today [the newspapers] Kayhan and Jomhouri Eslami have sharply criticized Ahmadinejad and opposed the deal. The heads of both papers are directly named by [supreme leader Ali] Khamenei."
The Americans and Europeans aren't holding their breaths for a deal. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates dismissed the possibility of a sudden breakthrough. Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, debating Mottaki in Munich on Friday night, said that until Iran officially notifies the IAEA of its readiness to accept the deal, everything is just talk.
"Our hand remains stretched out," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Saturday. "But it is so far hanging into the empty space."
"There is a proposal on the table," said Catherine Ashton, European Union foreign policy chief. "I pay tribute to the imaginative policy of President Obama ... that so far has gone without response" by Iran.Meanwhile, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said it was time to increase pressure on Iran. "The time has come for the international community to set out with determination along the path of new, effective sanctions," he was quoted as saying by the newspaper Corriere della Sera.
-- Borzou Daragahi in Beirut and Julia Damianova in MunichPhoto: Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, left, and Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki, right, with moderator Stefan Kornelius at the annual Munich Security conference on Friday. Credit: Matthias Schrader / Associated Press