Iran Agrees to New Talks With 6 Global Powers

Tehran: Nuclear Program Not on Agenda

Fellows Fall 2009

By Joby Warrick

September 18, 2009

Published in The Washington Post

VIENNA, Sept. 14 -- Iran, facing stiffening pressure over its nuclear program, has agreed to a new round of talks with global powers this fall but also repeated Monday its vow to fend off any attacks against its nuclear facilities.

European Union officials announced an Oct. 1 date for the new talks, which will include Iran's top nuclear negotiator and representatives of the United States, Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China. The discussion will be the first between Iran and the six world powers in more than a year.

Iran in recent days has appeared to rule out curbs on its atomic energy program, declaring its pursuit of nuclear power to be an "inalienable right." But U.S. and E.U. officials expressed hope Monday that the new talks could ultimately include Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"This is an important first step," said Steven Chu, the U.S. energy secretary, who was attending a meeting at the Vienna headquarters of the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

In Tehran, a Foreign Ministry spokesman appeared to dampen expectations. "Talks will focus on disarmament and international concerns, not the Iranian rights enshrined by the Non-Proliferation Treaty," said spokesman Hassan Qashqavi, referring to Iran's claim of a legitimate right to seek peaceful nuclear power.

Qashqavi was quoted by the state-run Islamic Republic News Agency as saying the talks would include a package of proposals intended to reduce tensions.

"We have repeatedly announced that the Iranian nation is for dialogue and is ready to have it within framework of the package of proposals," Qashqavi said.

The United States and many of its allies suspect that Iran intends either to build a nuclear bomb or develop the capacity to make one quickly if it chooses to. Western powers have threatened new sanctions against Iran if it does not halt production of enriched uranium, the key ingredient in both commercial nuclear fuel and nuclear weapons. U.S. intelligence officials say they think Iran already possesses enough enriched uranium to make at least one nuclear bomb, though such a move would require additional enrichment and overcoming numerous other technical hurdles.

At the Vienna IAEA meeting, the head of Iran's nuclear energy organization said the Islamic republic had publicly "forsworn the non-peaceful uses" of nuclear technology. But Ali Akbar Salehi, who heads Iran's nuclear energy organization, warned against preemptive strikes against the country's nuclear facilities. He railed against what he called the "arrogance" of declared nuclear powers such as the United States that would seek to prevent other countries from developing a nuclear infrastructure.

"While taking every threat seriously, [Iran] is in the meantime confident of its capacity to defend itself," said Salehi, speaking at the annual conference of the IAEA's 150 member states. "Our preparedness extends from a generalized civil defense to a comprehensive military defense."

IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, in his last address to the agency's general conference before stepping down in November, called for greater transparency from Iran. He noted that there remained "questions and allegations that cast doubt on the peaceful nature" of the country's nuclear initiatives.

But ElBaradei also urged Western nations to favor diplomacy over conflict, and he accused the Bush administration of rushing into war in Iraq without waiting for the results of U.N. investigations into allegations about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction.

"A major cause for regret," he said, "was the fact that, despite the agency and the United Nations providing impartial and factual information that pointed to the absence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, a war was launched against that country, with tragic consequences."

Correspondent Thomas Erdbrink in Tehran contributed to this report.