The opening round of talks between Iran and six global powers has made significant headway after Tehran agreed to open its new nuclear enrichment plant for international inspections within two weeks.
It also agreed in principle to transfer abroad for further enrichment, most of its stockpile of domestically produced low enriched uranium.
An upbeat Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters on Thursday at the United Nations Headquarters in New York that talks should now be held at the level of country-heads, instead of officials who met on October 1 for talks in a secluded villa on the outskirts of Geneva. For the first time, the United States officially participated in Thursday's talks with Iran, along with Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany.
The European Union (E.U.) foreign policy chief, Javier Solana said at a press conference that Iran and the six global powers would meet again by the month-end, signalling the beginning of a process of dialogue. He said the Iranians had agreed to open their second uranium enrichment facility near Qom to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors within a fortnight. IAEA head Mohamed ElBaradei is heading for Iran at the week-end for discussions.
Significantly, Iran has agreed to ship abroad most of its domestically produced low enriched uranium stocks, purified to a 3 to 5 per cent level. The material is likely to be shipped to Russia and France, where it will be enriched to 19-20 per cent levels. It would then be returned in the form of metal fuel rods to a facility in Tehran that makes isotopes for medical use.
The New York Times, quoting non-American western officials, said Iran could be sending abroad 1,200 kg of enriched uranium, which could be as much as 75 percent of its declared stockpile. The move is significant as it would allay fears and silence advocates of air strikes against Iranian facilities, such as Israel, who argue that Tehran has already accumulated a stockpile large enough to make at least one nuclear weapon.
Analysts point out that the Iranian offer can become pivotal, if transfer of low-enriched uranium in sufficient quantities for further enrichment abroad is sustained, and if Iran can demonstrate to the IAEA that it does not run secret uranium enrichment facilities.
IAEA experts are expected to hold talks with their Iranian counterparts on October 18, to discuss details about shipping Iran's low-enrichment stocks overseas.
Responding to Thursdays talks, U.S. President Barack Obama said that "a constructive beginning" had been made in Geneva.
However, he insisted that the meeting "must be followed with constructive action by the Iranian government," including "unfettered access to IAEA inspectors within two-weeks.
Head of the Iranian delegation to the talks, Saeed Jalili said at a separate press conference that the talks were "good" and would serve as a "framework for better talks."