Iran, world powers resume nuclear talks in Istanbul

Friday, January 21, 2011

ISTANBUL - Iran and six world powers held the first of two days of talks on Iran’s controversial nuclear programme in Istanbul, with both sides hoping a positive approach could make headway in the stand-off.

Iran’s National Security Council, of which Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Saeid Jalili is the secretary general, said the talks had begun Friday with a “positive atmosphere”, according to a statement reported by Iranian state PressTV.

The five permanent members of the UN Security Council - the US, Britain, France, Russia and China - plus Germany (collectively referred to as the P5+1 group) are seeking improved dialogue with Iran because of concerns about its nuclear programme.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton is negotiating on behalf of the P5+1 group.

Diplomatic sources said Friday that Ashton advised Jalili to have a bilateral meeting with US undersecretary of state for political affairs William J. Burns, who is leading the US delegation, in order to achieve more substantial results.

In Washington, US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said it was still uncertain whether any such meeting would take place: “We are fully prepared to have a conversation with Iran, but whether it will happen remains to be seen.”

The talks come just over a month after a round of negotiations in Geneva, which resumed dialogue between Iran and world powers after a 14-month hiatus, but achieved little more than an agreement to hold further talks in Istanbul.

Though Iran insists its nuclear activities are for peaceful purposes, many countries fear the programme is aimed at developing nuclear weapons.

Iran’s delegation told the six powers in the opening session of talks that it had a right to develop nuclear technology for civilian use and that the lifting of sanctions was a precondition for negotiations.

Despite the pressure of four rounds of UN-imposed sanctions, Tehran has not been pressured to abandon nuclear enrichment, which the group demands.

In a statement released a day before the start of talks, Crowley said the US sought to “launch a meaningful and practical process that addresses the core issues with Iran’s nuclear programme”.

But with Iran insisting that its nuclear enrichment activities were not up for debate, substantive results from the talks may remain elusive.

In recent days, both sides had expressed tentative hopes for a nuclear swap deal, in which Iranian low-enriched uranium (LEU) would be exchanged in return for foreign-made fuel for a Tehran research reactor.

Seen as a confidence-building measure, such a plan would remove some nuclear material from Iran that could theoretically be used for making bombs, replacing it with fuel that cannot be used militarily.

In a swap deal proposed at talks in 2009, Iran was to send 1,200 kg of LEU abroad - a figure that represented about 75 percent of Iran’s nuclear stockpile at the time.

But because Iran’s known stockpiles of enriched uranium are now up to more than 3,000 kg, world powers say the amount of uranium would need to be revised upwards for a swap deal to be considered meaningful.

Filed under: Diplomacy

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