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EU plays down deadline for Iran talks

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton on Monday played down Iran's calls for a nuclear accord within a year, saying that technical work will take time.

Iran's new moderate leadership said last week that major powers had agreed to seek a deal within 12 months on Tehran's disputed nuclear program after landmark contact between the Islamic republic and the United States.

Ashton, who will lead the October 15-16 negotiations in Geneva among Iran and six other nations, said that the potential dismantling of parts of Tehran's nuclear program required expertise "and that technical work takes time."

"Part of being level-headed, clear-eyed, is to say, okay, if this is real, let's make it real and let's make sure that everybody can be confident in what we're actually doing," Ashton said in Washington when asked about the timeframe for a deal.

Ashton said it was critical to convince "those who are most worried and most skeptical."

Iran's newly elected President Hassan Rouhani on Friday spoke by telephone to his US counterpart Barack Obama, the first contact between the nations' leaders since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Obama met Monday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has denounced Rouhani as an imposter and demanded that sanctions be maintained or strengthened.

"By no means is the prime minister of Israel alone. There are plenty of those who have good reason to be concerned, either because of proximity or because of things that have been said historically," Ashton said at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

Iran's former president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was known for his strident denunciations of Israel and his denial of the Holocaust.

Rouhani has toned down Iran's criticism of Israel, while urging Obama to ignore "warmongering pressure groups."

Days before his inauguration, the House of Representatives easily approved a proposal to stiffen already tough sanctions that have inflicted pain on Iran's economy.

Ashton, asked about the US sanctions bill which also enjoys wide support in the Senate, declined to criticize the move overtly but called on all sides to work for progress.

"I would like to get to Geneva with the best possible atmosphere to have these negotiations," she said.

"That means, in all sorts of ways, we need to show willingness and good faith to sit down and talk and expect the same in return," she said.

"We keep the pressure on, but the pressure is there for a reason. It's to bring people to the talks in order to try and make progress," she said.

Ashton said that the Geneva talks would be held at the level of senior diplomats rather than political leaders, with the United States to be represented by Under Secretary of State Wendy Sherman.

The other nations in the talks are Britain, China, France, Germany and Russia, along with Iran itself.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130930/eu-plays-down-deadline-iran-talks-0