U.S.-Iran talks inch closer deal on enriched uranium

Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh defends himself during the trial of dozens of opposition activists.

Associated Press

Iranian-American scholar Kian Tajbakhsh defends himself during the trial of dozens of opposition activists.

VIENNA — American and Iranian negotiators met directly Tuesday to try to kick-start stalled talks meant to persuade Tehran to send most of its enriched uranium abroad — and thus delay its potential to make a nuclear weapon. The head of the U.N. nuclear agency said progress was slow but he expected a breakthrough.

A diplomat at the closed-door talks said a deal was close but not yet sealed. Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner of France — one of the nations negotiating with Iran — warned that it and its partners in the talks "won't back down" on insisting that Tehran export most of its enriched material.

Tuesday was the second day of talks in the Austrian capital between Iran and the United States, Russia and France over Iran's nuclear program. But the meeting convened only in the late evening after a day of backdoor negotiations, mediated in part by International Atomic Energy Agency chief Mohamed ElBaradei.

Tehran says it needs enriched uranium for nuclear fuel, but the United States and other nations fear that could be used to make weapons. The United States says Iran is one to six years away from being able to do so.

ElBaradei spoke of a "question of confidence-building guarantees" — a possible allusion to the direct discussions between the Iranians and Americans and the need by both sides to defuse decades of distrust.

As Tuesday's meeting ended, Ali Asghar Soltanieh, the chief Iranian delegate, said it "had been constructive. We will continue tomorrow."

Iranian-American given 12 years

Iran ignored appeals by Hillary Rodham Clinton and sentenced an Iranian-American academic to 12 years in prison Tuesday for his alleged role in antigovernment protests after the country's disputed presidential election.

The sentence for Kian Tajbakhsh was the longest prison term yet in a mass trial of more than 100 opposition figures, activists and journalists in the postelection turmoil.

At the same time, Iran allowed another defendant to leave the country — Canadian-Iranian Maziar Bahari, a Newsweek journalist arrested in the same crackdown who had been freed on bail over the weekend.

Bahari joined his British wife, who is in the last days of her pregnancy, in London, Newsweek said on its Web site Tuesday. It was the first word that Bahari had left Iran.

Bahari's release could be a concession by Iran to international pressure. But Tajbakhsh's heavy sentence signaled that Tehran was sticking to a tough line overall on the political unrest. It came amid calls in Iran for the prosecution of the most senior opposition figure and suggestions that three American hikers, detained after accidentally crossing into Iran, could face charges.

Tajbakhsh, a social scientist and urban planner, was arrested by security forces at his Tehran home July 9 — the only American detained in the crackdown that crushed giant street protests by hundreds of thousands of people after the June 12 election. The opposition says the vote was rigged in favor of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Washington has repeatedly denounced his arrest.

U.S.-Iran talks inch closer deal on enriched uranium 10/20/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, October 20, 2009 11:28pm]

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