By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 1, 2010; 9:51 AM
ASTANA, KAZAKHSTAN - Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said the United States was "encouraged" that Iran has agreed to meet with other countries on its nuclear program but warned that a tentative deal that fell apart last year will need to be modified to account for Iran's nuclear gains.
Six world powers will meet with Iranian negotiators Monday and Tuesday in Geneva, more than a year after the last such meeting. The talks will be led by European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who will be joined by senior diplomats from the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany.
"This is an opportunity for Iran to come to the table and discuss the matters that are of concern to the international community, first and foremost their nuclear program," Clinton after attending a security summit here.
Iran has indicated it wants to discuss a much broader agenda than just nuclear issues. It has vowed not to give up its uranium enrichment efforts, which it says are not designed to produce fuel for nuclear weapons.
"Iran is entitled to the use of civil nuclear power for peaceful purposes," Clinton said. "It is not, however, entitled to a nuclear weapons program."
A major sticking point in the talks will be whether to revive a tentative agreement for the United States, Russia and France to assist Iran in getting new fuel for a medical research reactor in Tehran.
Iranian negotiators had agreed in principle to transfer more than 2,600 pounds of low-enriched uranium out of the country so that Russia and France could convert it into the specialized fuel cells for the reactor. The United States would help improve safety at the reactor, which makes medical isotopes for cancer patients.
The arrangement a year ago was designed to be a confidence-building step toward tackling the more problematic uranium enrichment program that has led to repeated United Nations sanctions on Iran. It was also designed to keep Iran's stock of low-enriched (3.5 percent) uranium below the amount needed to create one bomb's worth of highly enriched 90 percent uranium.
But once the deal fell apart, Iran quickly accumulated even more enriched uranium. The country has begun enriching some of its uranium to 19.75 percent, the level needed for the medical isotope facility but also a step closer to weapons-grade.
Iran later renegotiated the transfer deal with Turkey and Brazil, but that pact was rejected by the other powers.
Clinton confirmed that the United States and its allies will now demand even stiffer terms for Iran's cooperation on the reactor.
The Tehran Research Reactor agreement "will certainly be discussed but would have to be modified in order to take into account what is known ... about the developments in Iran's nuclear program since that agreement was first reached and then not implemented," Clinton said.
U.S. officials say that well-documented problems with Iran's uranium enrichment program this year have greatly reduced concerns that Iran is on the brink of producing a nuclear weapon, giving additional time to strike a deal. They also contend that international sanctions have caused more angst in Iran than Iranian leaders are willing to admit.