After years of tension over Iran's nuclear program, some analysts say talks between Iran and the west have a positive momentum. Talks earlier this month in Geneva were touted by some as a qualified success.
At issue in the Vienna talks is whether and how Iran would hand over 1,200 kilograms of its low-enriched uranium to Russia and France, to be developed into nuclear fuel rods. The process would make it harder for the material to be used for military purposes.
Nuclear security expert Joseph Cirincione says a deal would also set back the countdown toward Iran's ability to produce a nuclear weapon, because Iran would need two years to rebuild its stockpile of low-enriched uranium.
"If we can make this deal happen we will have made Iran's path to the bomb longer," said Cirincione, adding that he was cautiously optimistic that a uranium export agreement would be reached.
Negotiations in Geneva ended October 1 with what Western officials called an "agreement in principle" for Iran to export its uranium to Russia, and subsequently to France. But in the days that followed Iran denied having agreed to the plan, and on Monday suggested it might purchase the fuel rods without exporting uranium from its stockpile.
The to-and-fro has led many skeptics to argue that Iran is biding its time and is not ready to make serious concessions.
"What Iran is anxious to do is to have as many meetings as possible, and to use them to show their public that they have international legitimacy," said Dr. Ali Ansari of Chatham House.
Iran has long been seeking fuel and replacement parts for its Tehran Research Reactor, the facility that would use the re-imported uranium. Built in 1967 during the reign of the Shah, Iran relies on the reactor to produce medical isotopes. Iran said last week, and repeated today, that it would continue to enrich its own uranium if the talks in Vienna failed to deliver fuel for the plant.
Reuters reported today that Iran has refused to hold direct talks with France, quoting the English language Iranian channel, Press TV. "Iran will not hold direct talks with France in Vienna for failing to deliver its nuclear materials in the past," Press TV reported, according to Reuters.
Kaveh Afrasiabi, a U.S.-based analyst close to Iran's government, says discussion of a uranium export deal has been ongoing for months between the West and Iran, through the IAEA. "Both sides have been looking into the proper modalities for making that happen, while addressing non-diversion and so forth," he said.
The talks come one day after a suicide bombing killed several senior members of Iran's Revolutionary Guard, potentially raising tension between the Islamic Republic and the U.S., whom Iran blames for the attack. The Sunni separatist group Jundullah, which has reportedly received support from the U.S., has claimed responsibility for Sunday's blast in the restive region of Sistan-Baluchistan along the Pakistani border.
Later this month U.N. inspectors are due to visit the Fardo facility, a newly-revealed enrichment site near Iran's holy city of Qom. The existence of the site was announced by Western leaders, among them U.S. President Barack Obama, days before the Geneva meeting.