Iran offers dates for new talks
Tehran, November 10, 2010
Iran told world powers on Tuesday it was ready to hold talks in Turkey in late November or early December, but a senior official signalled reluctance to discuss elements of Tehran's nuclear plans at the meeting.
Western diplomats have made clear they want Iran to address concerns about its nuclear programme in discussions that six major powers -- the United States, France, Russia, Britain, Germany and China -- have offered to Tehran later this month.
But analysts say rivalries within Iran's conservative establishment may make it more difficult for the powers to strike any agreements with the Islamic Republic to restrain its nuclear activity, or even to conduct meaningful talks.
In a letter dated Nov 9 and seen by Reuters, Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, told European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton that he was ready to meet in Istanbul on Nov 23 or Dec 5.
A spokesman for Ashton confirmed the letter and said she would be discussing it with the six world powers, who have given her a mandate to hold talks with Jalili. "It's a positive step and we'll be looking at the next steps," he said.
Jalili did not spell out what he wanted the discussions to focus on. Ashton has said everything should be on the table, including Iran's uranium enrichment programme, which the West suspects is aimed at producing fuel for nuclear weapons.
"I wish to reiterate that his excellency Dr Jalili ... will be ready to have a meeting on either 23rd of November or 5th of December 2010 in Istanbul," the letter read.
Ashton had proposed to meet on Nov 15-17 in Vienna. An EU diplomatic source said the powers were unlikely to have any problems with the new date proposed by Jalili but may suggest an alternative venue in Europe.
It would be the first such meeting in more than a year and also the first since the United Nations, the United States and the European Union imposed tougher sanctions on Iran.
But Tehran has shown no sign of backing down over advancing enrichment work it says is for peaceful electricity production, shrugging off a four-year-old offer from the powers of trade and diplomatic benefits if it suspends the programme.
In Washington, the State Department said the powers would consult and respond soon to Jalili, and underscored that Iran's nuclear programme would be the main subject for any talks. - Reuters