Iran opened two days of nuclear talks with the United States, Russia and France on Monday with veiled public threats that it could back away from an agreement to ship more than three-quarters of its stockpile of nuclear fuel out of the country, unless the West acceded to Iranian demands to provide it with new fuel.
At the end of a nearly four-hour session, the director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohamed ElBaradei, said little about the negotiations other than “We’re off to a good start.”
Other participants in the talks, which filled an oversize conference room at the agency’s headquarters, said that although Iran’s representatives did not reject outright the idea of sending the country’s fuel to Russia and France for further enrichment, its negotiators stopped well short of reaffirming the statements the country made in talks on Oct. 1.
“This was opening-day posturing,” one participant in the talks said, declining to be identified because all sides had agreed not to discuss the specifics of the negotiations. “The Iranians are experienced at this, and you have to expect that their opening position isn’t going to be the one you want to hear.”
The talks are advertised as a meeting of technical experts, but much more is at stake. If Iran carries through its plan to use its own low-enriched uranium — produced in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions — to fuel a reactor in Tehran used for medical purposes, U.S. officials say that doing so would set aside, for about a year, fears that Iran could use the fuel to produce a nuclear weapon. After that, Iran’s continuing production of uranium would refill its stockpiles.
“Our object is to get a sizable amount of low-enriched uranium out of the country of Iran, making the world more secure,” said Robert Gibbs, President Obama’s press secretary, at a White House news briefing.
A senior administration official said, “By the end of these next two days we’ll know if the Iranians are serious and whether we have time” to pursue further diplomacy without fear that Iran is racing ahead to produce a weapon from fuel ostensibly intended for other purposes.
Iran’s public statements about the agreement this month have not been entirely negative; some have expressed support for the deal. American officials say they still cannot determine Iran’s real position, if it has decided on one.