Iran, Six Powers Lock Horns Over Nuclear Reactor That Could Yield Plutonium

(Reuters) -

Iran and world powers locked horns on Wednesday over the future of a planned Iranian nuclear reactor that could yield plutonium for bombs as the United States warned “hard work” will be needed to overcome differences when the sides reconvene in April.

The meeting in Vienna was the second in a series that the six nations — the United States, China, Russia, Germany, France, Britain — hope will produce a verifiable settlement on the scope of Iran’s nuclear program, ensuring it is oriented to peaceful ends only.

This week the two sides endeavored to iron out their positions on two of the thorniest issues: the level of uranium enrichment conducted in Iran, and its Arak heavy-water reactor that the West sees as a possible source of plutonium for bombs.

They appeared to reach no agreements and said only that they would meet again on April 7-9, also in the Austrian capital. However, Tehran’s foreign minister voiced optimism that their July 20 deadline for a final agreement was within reach.

The United States has called on Iran to scrap or radically alter the as-yet-uncompleted reactor, but Tehran has so far rejected that idea while hinting it could modify the plant.

“We shared with Iran ideas that we have,” a senior U.S. administration official told reporters condition of anonymity. “We have long said that we believe that Arak should not be a heavy water reactor as it is, that we did not think that that met the objectives of this negotiation.”

Enrichment is also a sticking point in the talks. “It’s a gap (on enrichment) that’s going to take some hard work to get to a place where we can find agreement,” the U.S. official said.

As in past rounds of negotiations, the U.S. delegation, led by Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Wendy Sherman, held an 80-minute bilateral meeting with the Iranian delegation. Such high-level, face-to-face contacts between the long estranged countries — unthinkable one year ago — have become almost “routine,” according to the U.S. official.