Western powers agree to resume Iran talks over nuclear programme

EU foreign policy chief says negotiations should restart as soon as possible with goal of ‘comprehensive long-term solution’

Six global powers have agreed to resume negotiations with Iran on its nuclear programme, calling for “concrete and practical steps” to restore international trust in Tehran’s stated intentions.

In a letter to Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, the EU foreign policy chief, Lady Ashton, said the negotiations should restart as soon as possible, at a venue to be decided.

Writing on behalf of a negotiating group comprising the US, UK, France, Russia, China and Germany, Ashton said: “Our overall goal remains a comprehensive negotiated, long-term solution which restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear programme, while respecting Iran’s right to the peaceful use of nuclear energy consistent with the NPT [nuclear non-proliferation treaty].”

The last set of talks broke down in Istanbul in January last year. Western diplomats said Jalili refused at that meeting to negotiate over Iran’s nuclear programme or any confidence-building measures previously discussed, such as an exchange of Iranian enriched uranium for foreign-made fuel rods for the Tehran research reactor.

At the meeting, the Iranian negotiator laid down pre-conditions for talks including the lifting of all sanctions and a guarantee that Iran could continue its nuclear programme, including the most controversial element, uranium enrichment.

As military tensions rose in the Gulf, with growing speculation over the possibility of an Israeli attack aimed at setting back the Iranian nuclear programme, Ashton wrote to Jalili in October last year suggesting that talks be resumed, but only on condition that they focused on Iran’s nuclear activities.

Tehran says the programme is for purely peaceful purposes, but the west and Israel allege it is a front for an effort to build a nuclear arsenal, or at least establish the capacity to build a bomb at short notice.

The Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, told an American Jewish group in Washington on Monday that diplomacy and sanctions had failed and that “none of us can afford to wait much longer” to act against Tehran.

Jalili’s reply to Ashton was delivered in February, four months after her proposal, suggesting talks on “a spectrum of issues” including “Iran’s nuclear issue”. That was taken by the six-nation group as specific enough to warrant a positive response, but there were differences between the capitals over how open-ended the talks could be, with the hardest line taken by Paris.

French officials argued that in order to satisfy Israel that all was being done to resolve the nuclear crisis by peaceful means, the international response would have to make it absolutely clear that the talks would have to end with the “full implementation” of UN security council resolutions calling for the suspension of uranium enrichment. That language was spelt out in Ashton’s latest letter.

“Therefore, looking forward to a sustained process of dialogue aimed at producing concrete results and in order not to repeat the experience of Istanbul, I would propose that we resume our talks at a mutually convenient date and venue as soon as possible,” Ashton concluded, adding that junior officials should meet in the near future to agree a time and venue. Western officials do not expect the negotiations to take place before the Iranian new year, or Nowruz, holiday.

A report by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), presented to the agency’s board this week, said Iran had tripled its rate of production of 20%-enriched uranium, seen by the west as a particular proliferation threat, and reported that Iran had not co-operated with an inspection visit last month, refusing access to a sensitive military site known as Parchin.

The Iranian mission to the IAEA said on Tuesday that access would be provided as long as the inspectors dealt with all their concerns about Parchin in a single visit. “Considering the fact that it is a military site, granting access is a time-consuming process and cannot be permitted repeatedly,” the mission said.

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from Julian Borger

via http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/mar/06/west-iran-talks-nuclear-programme

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