- Associated Press - Thursday, August 5, 2010

VIENNA, Austria (AP) — As Iran and world powers prepare for new nuclear talks, letters from Tehran’s envoys to top international officials and shared with the Associated Press suggest major progress is unlikely, with Tehran combative and unlikely to offer any concessions.

Two letters, both written late last month, reflect Iran’s apparent determination to continue the nuclear activities that have led to new rounds of United Nations, European Union and U.S. sanctions in recent weeks over fears that Tehran might be seeking to develop nuclear arms.

At the same time, world powers preparing to talk with Tehran are unwilling to cede ground on key demands concerning Iran’s uranium enrichment activities, dimming prospects that the new negotiations will ease tensions.

Iran insists it want to enrich uranium only to make fuel for a planned reactor network and denies accusations that it will use the program to make fissile warhead material.

But international suspicions are strong. Tehran hid its enrichment program until it was revealed from the outside. It also acknowledged constructing a secret nuclear facility last year to the International Atomic Energy Agency last year only days before its existence was publicly revealed by the United States and Great Britain.

Since its enrichment program was unmasked eight years ago, Tehran has defied four U.N. Security Council sanctions meant to pressure it into freezing enrichment. Sporadic negotiations between Iran and all or some of the permanent U.N. Security Council members plus Germany also have failed to make headway.

The International Atomic Energy Agency, in its latest tally in June, said Iran now was running nearly 4,000 uranium-enriching centrifuges and has amassed nearly 2.5 tons of low-enriched uranium that can be used for fuel.

That’s also enough for two nuclear bombs if enriched to weapons-grade levels.

Reinforcing his country’s hard line, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Wednesday warned the West against “resorting to lies and hue and cry” in attempts to pressure his country into making nuclear concessions.

The letters, provided to the AP by an official on condition he not be named because of their confidential nature, address two sets of talks tentatively set to resume this fall.

In one negotiation round, the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany again will push for an Iranian commitment to freeze enrichment. The other will try to revive talks between Iran and Washington, Paris and Moscow on a fuel swap for Tehran’s research nuclear reactor.

A letter addressed to Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, slams her offer to resume talks a day after the U.N. Security Council passed its fourth set of sanctions, calling it “astonishing” and describing subsequent EU and U.S. sanctions as “even more astonishing.”

“This kind of behavior … is absolutely unacceptable,” says the letter from Iran’s top nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili.

The second letter says that “irrational conditions” imposed by the West are blocking a new round of the fuel-swap talks. Addressed to International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano and signed by Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran’s chief IAEA delegate, the letter accuses the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council of poisoning the atmosphere “through (the) imposition of another illegal resolution.”

While both letters say Iran is ready to talk, the one to Ms. Ashton, the point person for the six big powers, sets the bar perhaps unreachably high, suggesting that Tehran is prepared to come to the table only if the other side ends its “hostility,” avoids “any kind of pressure or threat” and states its “clear position on the nuclear weapons of the Zionist regime.”

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