Iran Insists Nuclear Talks be Held in Turkey

TEHRAN (AFP)–Iran said on Sunday it had informed Ankara that Tehran is ready to hold talks in Turkey with the six world powers over its controversial nuclear program, turning to a country seen as an ally.

European Union foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, spearheading the negotiations with Iran for the world powers, last month proposed to hold the talks starting November 15 in Vienna, where the U.N. nuclear watchdog is based.

“In the last two or three days, we informed our Turkish friends that we agree to hold negotiations in Turkey,” Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters Sunday.

Iranian media, meanwhile, reported that Karim Bagheri, the deputy of Iran’s nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, had visited Turkey on Thursday.

Jalili informed Ashton in October that his country was prepared to resume nuclear talks after November 10 at a time and place agreed by both sides, according to the state news agency IRNA.

On Sunday, an Iranian conservative newspaper, Vatan Emrouz, without quoting a source, reported that the negotiations would be held by the end of November in Turkey.

The nuclear talks between Iran and the six world powers — Britain, China, France, Russia, Germany and the United States — have been deadlocked since October 2009 when the two sides met in Geneva.

The world powers, led by the United States, suspect that Iran is masking a weapons drive under the guise of a civilian nuclear program, a charge Tehran strongly denies.

Mottaki said the Islamic republic was “very optimistic” about the next round of talks.

“I hope we will reach an agreement soon over the date and the contents,” he said. “We are very optimistic the discussions will start as soon as possible, as the overall approach of Iran is positive and constructive.”

Iran has always insisted the talks be held on its package of proposals given to world powers before the October 2009 round of talks. That package talks of overall global nuclear disarmament.

But world powers insist the talks focus on Iran’s nuclear program.

The deadlock with world powers has already led to fresh U.N. and EU sanctions against Iran, which were followed by several other unilateral punitive measures by other nations, including the United States.

Western media reports say Washington plans to offer Iran “tough” proposals during negotiations following Tehran’s refusal to abandon the uranium enrichment program, the most controversial part of its nuclear drive.

Enriched uranium can be used to power nuclear plants as well as to make the fissile core of an atom bomb.

French daily Le Monde reported on Thursday the United States was mulling over offering to transfer 2,000 kilograms of Tehran’s low-enriched uranium to Russia for the Islamic republic’s Bushehr nuclear power plant, built by Moscow.

The U.S. proposal also calls for the transfer of another 1,200 kilograms of Tehran’s LEU to Russia and France, as offered in October 2009 for the Tehran Research Reactor, a facility making medical isotopes, according to Le Monde.

The report adds Washington plans to propose shifting the 30 kilograms of 20 percent enriched uranium that Tehran currently has produced and intends to convert into fuel for the Tehran reactor if world powers fail to deliver.

But Mottaki said Wednesday that any swap of nuclear fuel must be based on an agreement it signed with Brazil and neighboring Turkey in May.

Brazil and Turkey brokered a modified agreement on a fuel exchange but the United States rejected it, arguing the deal failed to take into account additional uranium enriched since last year.

On Sunday, Mottaki also dismissed U.S. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham’s remark that Washington was facing a possible war with Iran. “Don’t take the American senator’s remark too seriously. He wanted to joke,” he said.

On Saturday, Graham said he saw the United States going to war with Iran “not to just neutralize their nuclear program, but to sink their navy, destroy their air force and deliver a decisive blow to the Revolutionary Guard, in other words neuter that regime.”

U.S. and its ally Israel have not ruled out a military strike to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

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