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Iran's good cop, bad cop act: agrees to talks, flaunts nuclear advances

Iran has agreed to return to talks about its nuclear program. But it also trumpeted advances in that nuclear program, showing that it wants to bargain from a position of strength.

By Staff writer / February 15, 2012

Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad watches from a control room as nuclear fuel rods are loaded into the Tehran Research Reactor in Tehran, in this still image taken from video Wednesday. Iran trumpeted advances in nuclear technology on Wednesday, citing new uranium enrichment centrifuges and domestically made reactor fuel.

IRIB Iranian TV via Reuters TV/REUTERS

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Washington

Iran’s trumpeting of what it says are major advances in its uranium-enrichment activities overshadowed another announcement Tehran made Wednesday – that it has formally accepted an invitation from international powers to return to talks on its nuclear program.

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But the two are closely related, nuclear experts say, because they reveal how Iran is trying to build up its image as progressing toward nuclear mastery even as it accepts a return to negotiations.

“With these kinds of announcements, the Iranians are making their best attempt to increase their negotiating leverage and enter these talks from a position of strength,” says Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association in Washington. “This is designed for an international audience, but it’s also for domestic consumption.”

Iran announced Wednesday that its chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, has formally accepted an invitation sent to Iran in October by the European Union’s foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, to talks with the so-called P5+1 group of countries – the Security Council’s five permanent members plus Germany.

It was not immediately clear under what conditions Iran had accepted returning to talks. European officials had said that Iran, at a minimum, would be required to suspend enriching uranium to 20 percent purity and to accept international inspectors to verify that suspension.

The EU’s Lady Ashton is scheduled to meet in Washington Friday with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to discuss the Iran developments, among other issues.

In another move aimed at Europe, and which also sought to portray Iran as a hard bargainer before any impending talks, Tehran suggested to six European countries still importing Iranian oil – France, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands, Greece, and Portugal –  that it might start cutting back on oil shipments. Just last month the EU approved an embargo on Iranian oil imports, to take effect in July after current contracts expire.

One Iranian press service initially announced that shipments to the six countries had been stopped. The report sent the price of oil to a six-month high of $119 a barrel.

In Iran, announcement of Mr. Jalili’s letter of acceptance was buried under Iran’s chest-thumping over several advances in the country’s uranium enrichment capabilities.

Official reports claimed that the country’s first domestically produced fuel rods were installed at an aging, American-made research reactor north of Tehran. The reactor, used to create medical isotopes, requires 20 percent enriched uranium fuel, which is also required for producing the highly enriched uranium – 90 percent purity – needed for a uranium-fueled nuclear weapon.

Iran also claimed to have installed the first of a new generation of faster and more efficient “P-2” centrifuges – the machines that spin uranium to achieve higher purity – at its major nuclear facility at Natanz.

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