France, other nations talk tough as Iran resists nuclear demands


By Matthew Lee and John Heilprin, AP

GENEVA–Iran and six world powers remain split on terms of a nuclear deal because Tehran is resisting demands that it suspends work on a plutonium-producing reactor and downgrade its stockpile of higher-enriched uranium to a level that cannot quickly be turned into the core of an atomic bomb, French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius said Saturday.

Diplomats reported differences between the French and other powers on the shape of any deal as Fabius spoke, adding to the complexities of the negotiations.

Fabius’ remarks to France-Inter radio were the first to provide some specifics on the obstacles at the Geneva talks, now in their third day. He spoke by telephone from Geneva, where he, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and counterparts from Britain, and Germany negotiating with Iran consulted on how to resolve the obstacles at the talks.

Fabius mentioned differences over Iran’s Arak reactor southeast of Tehran, which could produce enough plutonium for several nuclear weapons a year once it goes online. He also said there was disagreement over efforts to limit Iran’s uranium enrichment to levels that would require substantial further enriching before they could be used as the fissile core of a nuclear weapon.

Asked about reported disagreements, a Western diplomat who is in Geneva for the talks told The Associated Press that the French were holding out for conditions on the Iranians tougher than those agreed to by France’s negotiating partners. That was confirmed by another Western diplomat. Both gave no specifics and demanded anonymity because they were not authorized to comment on the diplomatic maneuvering.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Romain Nadal pointed to “rather large cohesion” among the negotiators, and said France wanted “the international community to see a serious change in the climate” of talks with Iran.

“There have been years of talks that have led to nothing,” Nadal said, alluding to the need for tough terms on Iran.

Iran, which denies any interest in nuclear weapons, currently runs more than 10,000 centrifuges that have created tons of fuel-grade material that can be further enriched to arm nuclear warheads. It also has nearly 440 pounds (200 kilograms) of higher-enriched uranium in a form that can be turned into weapons much more quickly. Experts say 550 pounds (250 kilograms) of that 20 percent-enriched uranium are needed to produce a single warhead.

Iran says it expects Arak, the plutonium producing reactor, to be completed and go online sometime next year. It would need additional facilities to reprocess the plutonium into weapons-grade material and the U.N.’s nuclear agency monitoring Iran’s atomic activities says it has seen no evidence of such a project.