Iran under pressure to agree deal on uranium
The world's leading powers sought to break the deadlock over Iran's nuclear ambitions yesterday by challenging Tehran to hand over part of its stockpile of enriched uranium in return for easing the pressure on the country's economy.
The talks in Baghdad, Iraq, focused on a dispute that has threatened to cause a new war in the Middle East. An international contact group consisting of the UN Security Council's five permanent members and Germany put forward a proposal designed as the first step towards restoring confidence in the supposedly peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme.
The country has enriched some uranium to 20pc purity -- a vital step towards the 90pc needed for nuclear weapons. Iran's explanation is that it needs this material to make fuel for a civilian research reactor.
In return for Iran exporting its stockpile of 20pc enriched uranium, the contact group -- consisting of Britain, the US, France, Russia, China and Germany -- offered to review restrictions on the sale of spare parts for the country's civil airliners.
They also raised the possibility of scrapping a ban, due to come in fully in July, on oil tanker insurance for Iran. This would be a significant concession, undoing one aspect of the embargo on Iranian oil sales that the EU is imposing from July 1.
But diplomats stressed no further easing of sanctions would be offered until Iran had taken more steps.
The proposals did not cover Iran's stockpile of 5,500kg of uranium enriched to 3.5pc purity. If uranium is processed to 90pc, it reaches weapons grade and could be used to make a nuclear bomb.
Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said that yesterday's talks had showed how sanctions on Iran could be scaled back. "As Iran takes a step toward the global community, the world community should take steps for weaker sanctions against Iran," he said.
However, his Western counterparts believe that sanctions have been instrumental in bringing Iran back to the negotiating table.
"I don't think the Iranians are coming to these talks because they suddenly changed their minds about anything. They are coming to these talks because sanctions are beginning to bite," said a diplomat.
They said the measures would be eased only in return for concrete moves by Tehran.
A statement from Tehran's official media said Iran had made its own offers in five broad areas. "We need the steps that both sides have to take to be clearly defined and there is no possibility of going back on them," said an Iranian official.
"For example, that they lift sanctions that they cannot then re-adopt two months later under a different pretext."
Ehud Barak, the Israeli defence minister, urged world powers not to waver in the talks.
"Without strengthening the current painful sanctions, Iran will continue towards a nuclear capability. We must not blink, give up or capitulate until the very last minute," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)