Analysts welcome Iran offer of expert-level nuclear talks

Tehran's surprise offer to arrange a meeting between Iranian and foreign nuclear experts was welcomed by analysts Thursday but got a cool reception from the United States and the European Union.

In an interview with the Washington Post and with Newsweek magazine carried Wednesday, Iranian President Ahmadinejad said Iranian nuclear experts should meet with counterparts from the United States and other countries to allay fears about his country's nuclear program.

"I think this is a very solid proposal which gives a good opportunity for a start" to build trust between the United States and Iran and "engage in cooperation," he noted.

Iran has not previously allowed such a meeting and it would mark a historic first.

"This is clearly something new," said Jacqueline Shire, an analyst with the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security. "I want to be very optimistic and say it reflects a new approach."

"Ahmadinejad is definitely softening his rhetoric. We don't know yet if he's beginning to soften his positions," noted Joe Cirincione, chairman of the Ploughshares Fund, a public grant-making foundation focused on nuclear weapons policy and conflict resolution.

"But his latest offer is the first real concession that he's made. He's under intense international and domestic pressure. He's trying to relieve that pressure," he added.

Cirincione noted the expert-level meeting had been a long-standing request from the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency.

Fariborz Ghadar, an analyst with the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies for his part noted that "pressure points have been put on Iran."

After conferring with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly Wednesday, Obama warned Tehran that "serious additional sanctions remain a possibility."

He urged the Islamic Republic to "seize the opportunity" at key talks with six major powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- scheduled for October 1 in Geneva.

And Russia signaled it could back biting sanctions if Tehran fails to make concessions at the Geneva talks.

"Russia's position is simple: sanctions are seldom productive but they are sometimes inevitable. It is a matter of choice," said Dmitry Medvedev following his talks with Obama.

Ghadar also pointed out that Tehran's offer would make it possible to identify the Iranian nuclear experts.

"It's significant. It allows to know where they are technically, their knowledge level and experience," he added.

"This is encouraging," Ghadar added. "It's a response both to the engagement and to the pressure."

But Washington and the European Union (EU) reacted coolly to the Iranian proposal.

"If Iran has constructive proposals that address the international community's concerns about its nuclear program, there are diplomatic channels available for Iran to offer them," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told AFP.

"I don't consider that an offer," said Javier Solana, the EU foreign policy chief. "We are ready to discuss anything, as long as we have the guarantees that Iran does not have a program that leads to something which is incompatible with the NPT (nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty)."

Ahmadinejad also said Iran would offer to purchase enriched uranium for medical purposes from the United States at the Geneva talks next month.

About 20 medical products are being developed at a nuclear research reactor -- which serves to produce radioactive isotopes to diagnose and treat diseases -- located in Tehran but more fuel is needed, he said.

The medical reactor was supplied by the United States during the rule of the US-backed shah, who was toppled in the 1979 Islamic Revolution that sparked a now three-decade long freeze of ties between the two countries.

"These nuclear materials we are seeking to purchase are for medicinal purposes... It is a humanitarian issue," Ahmadinejad added.

Iran has been subjected to three rounds of UN sanctions for failing to comply with UN resolutions demanding that it halt its uranium enrichment programme which the West sees as a cover for acquiring nuclear arms.

Tehran insists that its nuclear program is solely geared toward electricity generation.

Source: AFP

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