/ 28 March 2012

Date set for Iranian nuclear talks

Long-stalled talks between Iran and world powers are to be revived on April 13 at a place yet to be agreed, Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted as saying on Wednesday by official media.

Salehi announced the date as he welcomed visiting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to Tehran for a two-day visit focusing on Iran’s nuclear programme and bilateral ties, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

“The venue will be announced in coming days,” IRNA quoted Salehi as saying.

Salehi added that Iran considered Istanbul — the location of the previous round of talks, which collapsed in January 2011 — the “best place” but that options were still being discussed.

Iran’s principal nuclear negotiator, Saeed Jalili, would announce any agreement on where the talks will take place, Salehi said.

Turkey’s ambassador to Tehran was quoted by Iran’s Press TV as saying: “Turkey stands ready to host the talks between Iran and the P5+1 group, but everything depends on an agreement between Iran and the P5+1.”

The discussions are to be held between Iran and the so-called P5+1 group comprising the five permanent UN Security Council members — the US, Russia, France, Britain and China — plus Germany.

Defusing tensions
The office of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who represents the P5+1, had said as recently as Tuesday that no date nor venue had yet been agreed.

Western diplomats accredited to the International Atomic Energy Agency in Vienna said up to Tuesday that they were not aware of any agreement fixing the place and date of the talks.

The talks carry hopes of defusing a tense international showdown over Iran’s nuclear activities that has sent oil prices soaring.

Israel has brandished the threat of possible military action against Iran’s nuclear sites, while the US has put its energies into sanctions and diplomacy but has not ruled out the military option.

Salehi said as he greeted Erdogan at Tehran’s international airport that Iran-Turkey bilateral ties would be first raised during the visit.

“Before going into the nuclear issue, we will discuss bilateral relations. The two countries have deep and broad ties, and over the course of this visit we will talk about ways to boost trade and economic relations,” he said.

Salehi said Iran-Turkey trade currently amounted to $16-billion a year but could reach $30-billion by 2015.

Imposing sanctions
Turkey relies on Iran for 30% of its oil imports and has refused to go along with sanctions imposed by the US and Europe, saying it will observe only UN-mandated restrictions on Iran.

However, Turkey is also a Nato member and it has agreed to deploy parts of an anti-missile shield that could be used against Iran, a point that has generated friction in the past with its neighbour.

The two countries are heavyweight players in the Middle East.

They hold different positions on several issues, notably on Syria. Ankara wants to see Syrian President Bashar al-Assad step down as part of a solution to the crisis there, while Tehran is giving Assad political and material support.

Erdogan arrived in Tehran from South Korea, where he had attended a nuclear security summit with other world leaders including US President Barack Obama.

He was accompanied by a large delegation that included the Turkish ministers for foreign affairs, energy, economy and urban development and the environment.

Turkish intelligence and military officials and the head of Turkey’s Atomic Energy Organisation, Zafer Alper, were also with him.

Erdogan was to hold talks with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani, IRNA said. — Sapa-AFP