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World powers to hold fresh talks with Iran over nuclear program

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has agreed to an Iranian proposal that a new round of talks be held between Tehran and six world powers on the future of Iran's controversial nuclear program.

Iran nuclear facility 2012 03 06Enlarge
The resumption of dialogue will see Iran and the six world powers come together for the first time since talks fell apart in January 2011. (Handout/Getty Images)

LONDON – Six world powers are to hold a new round of talks with Iran on the future of its nuclear program, the EU has said.

In a move that will be viewed in many quarters as final attempt at securing diplomatic compromise to avoid military action by Israel or the US, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said Tuesday she had replied to a letter from Iran on behalf of the five permanent UN Security Council members plus Germany accepting a proposal to resume dialogue.

Iran’s chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jaleeli wrote to Ashton last month requesting talks at the “earliest” opportunity, The Wall Street Journal reports, in a letter setting no preconditions for talks.

Ashton’s acceptance, which follows the expansion of sanctions by Europe and the US to pressure Tehran to hold back on its nuclear program, paves the way for talks between Iran and the US, the UK, France, Russia, China and Germany to begin next month.

No date or venue has been confirmed, but the move comes against a backdrop of fresh speculation that a pre-emptive military strike will be launched against Iran’s nuclear facilities.

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The US and its allies say Iran’s program is a cover for developing atomic weapons, a charge that Tehran denies. But the sanctions on its oil and financial sectors are placing an unprecedented strain on the country’s economy, and an EU embargo on Iranian crude is set to kick in fully in July.

A statement from Baroness Ashton released Tuesday said the EU hoped Iran would “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 program,” according to the BBC.

The statement added: “Our overall goal remains a comprehensive negotiated, long-term solution which restores international confidence in the exclusively peaceful nature of Iran’s nuclear program.”

The resumption of dialogue will see Iran and the six world powers come together for the first time since talks fell apart in January 2011, the Financial Times reports.

Protracted discussions during which leaders tried to persuade Iran to swap around 1,200 kilograms of low enriched fuel rods needed to fuel a research reactor came to nothing, and Iran has since forged ahead with key aspects of its nuclear program.

On Tuesday, Iran indicated it would agree under certain conditions to allow UN International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspectors to visit the key military complex of Parchin, which is focused on the research and production of rockets and explosives.

IAEA officials want to check intelligence that suggests Iran’s government has carried out explosives research there that is relevant to the development of nuclear weapons, according to Reuters.

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On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, on a visit to the US, told the pro-Israeli American-Israel Public Affairs Committee that time was running out to bring a halt to Iran’s nuclear program, saying: “We waited for diplomacy to work; we’ve waited for sanctions to work; none of us can afford to wait much longer,” The New York Times reported.

US President Barack Obama stressed that all options remained on the table, but urged Netanyahu to give diplomacy and sanctions a chance before falling back on military options.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/iran/120306/world-powers-hold-fresh-talks-iran-over-nuclear-program