EU accepts Iran's call for fresh nuclear talks

By Paul Taylor, Parisa Hafezi

TEHRAN/BARCELONA - Britain, France and Germany agreed to exploratory talks with Iran on resuming negotiations over its disputed nuclear programme, which broke down in August, EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said.

"A letter has been conveyed to Iran this afternoon ... from the three countries and myself. We offered Iran to have conversations, dialogue to see if we have enough common basis to start negotiations," he told reporters at a Euro-Mediterranean summit in Barcelona.

An EU diplomat said the letter called Iran's resumption of uranium ore conversion a "major setback" but dropped the previous European insistence that negotiations on long-term cooperation could only restart if Iran resumed a full suspension of activities related to uranium enrichment.

The letter set no date but Iran's official IRNA news agency said ambassadors of the so-called EU3 countries had accepted a resumption of the talks in December, quoting a statement issued by Iran's Supreme National Security Council.

Iran's chief nuclear negotiator, Ali Larijani, wrote to the EU3 this month calling for the resumption of talks, which collapsed in August when Tehran reactivated a plant converting uranium ore into a gas, a precursor to making enriched nuclear fuel.

The International Atomic Energy Agency's 35-nation board last week not to refer Iran to the UN Security Council to give time to try to broker a compromise.

The EU diplomat said the EU3 letter said talks could cover a Russian proposal, backed by Washington and the European Union.

That plan would allow Iran to maintain a civilian nuclear programme but uranium enrichment, the most sensitive stage of the nuclear fuel cycle that can be used to make fuel for bombs, would be transferred to Russia under a joint venture.

"We believe these could provide important elements of a comprehensive solution," the letter said, according to elements seen by Reuters.

"We would therefore welcome concrete signals by Iran of its willingness to meet the expectations of the international community and hope Iran will create conditions that will enable a resumption of our discussions," it said.

However, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hamid Reza Asefi reiterated yesterday that Iran's right to a full nuclear cycle on its soil was non-negotiable.

"We will only review those proposals which include mastering the nuclear fuel cycle inside Iran," Asefi told a weekly news conference.

He said that Iran had not received a formal proposal from Russia but would study it if it arrived.

Diplomats and intelligence officials said last week that Iran was preparing to start enrichment at its underground plant in Natanz, suspended under a November 2004 deal with Britain, France and Germany.

Asefi rejected the report, saying western media were "fabricating news" to pressure Iran to abandon its programme, as the United States and other Western countries had been trying to convince Tehran to give up potentially weapons-related work.

"It seems they want to solve Iran's nuclear issue through media ... But we prefer it to be solved through talks," he said.

- REUTERS

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