World powers agree to new nuclear talks with Iran
Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States have agreed to restart talks with Iran over its controversial nuclear programme, the European Union's foreign policy chief said Tuesday, DPA reported.
"Time and venue of these talks will now be agreed," Catherine Ashton said in a statement.
The offer came despite Iran's recent refusal to allow international inspectors to probe alleged nuclear weapons projects.
Ashton - who has previously negotiated with Iran on behalf of the so-called E3+3 group of states - expressed optimism that renewed talks could resolve the diplomatic impasse.
"We hope that Iran will now enter into a sustained process of constructive dialogue which will deliver real progress in resolving the international community's long-standing concerns on its nuclear programme," she said.
A senior EU official, who wished to remain anonymous, said it was encouraging that Iran had put in writing its willingness to discuss the nuclear issue, while the E3+3 group had maintained a united front and the EU was clearly applying the "right" sanctions approach.
In January, the bloc approved an embargo on Iranian oil that is set to go fully into effect on July 1, as part of international pressure on Tehran over its nuclear activities.
In a letter to Iran's top nuclear negotiator, Saedi Jalili, Ashton said the goal "remains a comprehensive negotiated, long-term solution which restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran's nuclear programme."
The formal talks were not expected to get underway until after the Iranian New Year, in the second half of March, the EU official said. Preparatory meetings between high-level representatives from both sides should, however, be held before.
"We will make it clear that we want to have meaningful discussions and the focus must clearly be on the nuclear issue," the official said. "We want concrete results ... They are very, very important talks and we do not want them to fail."
Although Iran indicated Tuesday that it would allow international inspectors to visit a key suspect site, it also made clear that the conditions for such a visit had to be settled first, Iranian news agency ISNA reported.
Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have not yet agreed on the terms of access to nuclear sites, scientists and documents, as Tehran has rejected a number of the nuclear agency's key demands, according to a draft agreement between the two sides.
IAEA chief Yukiya Amano said Monday in Vienna that quick access was important because of indications of recent activities at the Parchin site, where nuclear explosions have been allegedly simulated.
While Tehran sent conciliatory signals about Parchin, it has made clear that it does not want to reveal the management structure or foreign purchases for its alleged secret nuclear programme, according to a draft agreement with the IAEA.
Both issues go to the heart of the country's alleged nuclear weapons research and development projects, which the IAEA says seem to be linked to the Ministry of Defense.
The document, which was obtained by dpa, was drafted during recent unsuccessful talks between both sides.
Iran struck two items from the list of issues to be tackled, titled "Programme management structure" and "Procurement activities," the document's proposed amendments show.
"They ruled it out categorically," a diplomat closely following the IAEA's work said Tuesday.
The agency reported in November that Iran's uranium enrichment programme and apparent efforts to design a nuclear warhead were grouped in the same project structure.
Iran says it enriches uranium only to make fuel for civilian reactors.
The Vienna-based agency also said that actual or attempted procurement of various equipment, "although having other civilian applications, would be useful in the development of a nuclear explosive device."
Tehran's nuclear procurements "would be difficult to explain for Iran because the IAEA has a lot of intelligence information" on this topic, the diplomat said. The nuclear agency says it has collected independent information corroborating the intelligence findings.
Besides refusing cooperation on these two issues, Iran also rejected IAEA demands for repe