RELATIONS between Iran and Western countries often seem like a dialogue of the deaf. Once again an agreement tentatively reached with Iranian negotiators at meetings in Europe has been rejected by the government in Tehran and counter-proposals made. The problem is the West's suspicion that Iran is enriching uranium to make nuclear weapons and Iran's insistence that it is not. On October 1 meetings with the UN's 5-plus-one group (US, Russia, Britain, France plus Germany) reached a deal with senior Iranian officials by which 70 per cent of Iran's uranium would be processed into fuel by France and Russia and returned to Tehran for medical research there. In this way Iran's stockpile of uranium would be kept below the level at which it could be put to military use.

Six weeks passed without an official response to the UN's proposal but this week came a counter-proposal for the processing of uranium into fuel to take place in Iran rather than France and Russia. Back to square one. The problem, said Iran's foreign minister, is that the West wants a response “only in the manner they expect”. The reality is that there is no trust at all between the two sides and no agreement on paper is sufficient without mutual trust. The 5-plus-one group meets in Brussels today to decide what to do. Sanctions loom.


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