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Iran Says 50-50 Chance of Success in Nuke Talks with EU

Roger Wilkison

A senior Iranian official says talks with the European Union about Iran's nuclear program have only a 50 percent chance of success. The official made the remark after preparatory talks in advance of the negotiating session planned for Wednesday in Geneva.

The foreign ministers of Britain, France, and Germany, and EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana will meet Wednesday with the top Iranian nuclear negotiator Hassan Rowhani in what both sides are calling a last-ditch attempt to save the negotiations.

With Iran threatening to resume some of the nuclear activities it froze last November as part of a deal with the Europeans, the European Union is warning that, if Tehran does so, it may have to refer Iran to the U.N. Security Council for punitive sanctions.

One of Mr. Rowhani's top deputies, Hossein Moussavian, was blunt as he emerged from the meeting at the French embassy in Brussels. He told reporters the chances of avoiding a breakdown in the talks are only 50-50.

"We are practically in the most difficult and complicated situation about the content of the negotiations. I believe our chance tomorrow is 50-50," he said. "We have had some steps forward, but we have a lot to go. I mean, I cannot say that I am completely optimistic."

Iran has accused the Europeans of dragging their feet in implementing their side of an accord whereby Iran suspended uranium enrichment in exchange for economic and technological help from the European Union. Iran maintains that, like other signatories to the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, it has a right to enrich uranium. And it insists that its nuclear program is for civilian use only.

But enriched uranium can be used for military as well as civilian purposes, and the United States has long believed that Iran is seeking a nuclear-weapons capability. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice says she has suspicions about Iran's intentions.

"I can say that there is significant concern around the world about the Iranian nuclear program," she said. "And I just want to add that it is not just the Iranian nuclear program but, of course, Iran, which has been a state sponsor of terrorism."

Iran has not threatened to resume uranium enrichment, although it insists it has the right to do so. What it has promised to do in the near future is to resume the conversion of uranium into gas, which is a precursor step to producing enriched uranium.

But the Europeans, whose efforts to engage Iran contrast with Washington's harder line toward the Islamic republic, say the resumption of any activity Iran froze as a result of the November agreement would breach that accord. Though they are reluctant to see the talks fail, they are prepared to refer Iran to the Security Council.

Tuesday's preparatory talks came as a leading London policy research organization, the International Institute of Strategic Studies, said the EU-Iran talks appeared doomed to failure. It said most Iranians support their country's development of a nuclear capability. But it warned that a nuclear Iran could destabilize the Middle East.

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