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Iran proposes Cairo for P5+1 nuclear talks: report
by Staff Writers
Tehran (AFP) Jan 23, 2013

Russia urges Iran to speed up nuclear cooperation
Moscow (AFP) Jan 23, 2013 - Russia on Wednesday urged Iran to speed up its answers to the UN nuclear watchdog addressing suspicions that Tehran is operating an atomic weapons programme.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said world powers had questions "about what may be -- has been or is -- a military component to the nuclear programme.

"Iran has underscored its desire to fully agree this document (on clearing up the suspicions)," Lavrov told reporters.

"We think that our Iranian colleagues could be doing this a little faster."

His comments came as Tehran proposed Cairo as the venue for the next meeting with the so-called "P5+1" -- the five permanent UN Security Council members and Germany.

Those talks run in parallel with the ones Iran is holding with the UN's International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and focus on slightly different issues.

A top Russian official had earlier said that Moscow expected the fourth round of top-level talks Iran has held with the "P5+1" in the past 10 months to happen in Istanbul by the end of February.

Russia has voiced repeated concerns over a lack of dialogue over a contested Iranian programme that most powers believe is focused on developing a nuclear bomb.

The Kremlin has also urged Western powers led by EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to offer meaningful concessions in return for Iran's formal renouncement of deeper enrichment.

Lavrov on Wednesday once again warned against Western attempts to isolate Iran and expressed dismay that the two sides were still arguing about the proper venue for negotiations.

World powers hope to resume Iran talks 'soon': EU
Brussels (AFP) Jan 23, 2013 - World powers hope to resume talks with Iran "as soon as possible" and are "very flexible" on a venue, an EU spokesman said Wednesday after Iran proposed to resume discussions on its disputed nuclear drive in Cairo .

"We want to see Iran come back to the negotiating table as soon as possible so that we can make concrete progress towards dealing with the international community's concerns about the Iranian nuclear programme," said a spokesman for EU foreign policy Catherine Ashton.

Ashton represents the so-called 5+1 group of powers -- the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France plus Germany -- in talks with Iran on its nuclear programme.

Consultations between Tehran and the group were ongoing, said her spokesman Michael Mann, with the nations "still hoping to reach agreement with Iran on the modalities of the talks, including venue, with a view to resuming talks shortly."

In Iran earlier, the ISNA news agency said Tehran had suggested Cairo as the venue for the next talks.

Iran has proposed that "the next meeting be held in Cairo, and it was welcomed by our Egyptian brothers," it cited Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi as saying after a cabinet meeting.

An EU source said that "several venues have been proposed."

"We do not exclude any, but Iran is proposing different venues all the time. The venue is not the issue, but Iran appears to be trying to delay the process by coming up with new conditions."

Mann said that world powers had suggested dates and venues in December.

"Ever since then, we have been very surprised to see Iran come back to us again and again with new pre-conditions on the modalities of the talks, for example by changing the venue and delaying their responses," he said.

At the most recent talks, in Moscow last June, Tehran rejected P5+1 calls for it to scale back its uranium enrichment activities, while also asking for relief from sanctions that began to bite in 2012.

Iran on Wednesday proposed Cairo as the venue for the next talks with world powers on its disputed nuclear drive, adding that the Egyptians have welcomed the idea, the ISNA news agency reported.

Iran has proposed that "the next meeting be held in Cairo, and it was welcomed by our Egyptian brothers," it cited Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi as saying after a cabinet meeting.

"Egypt is consulting with the 5+1," he added of the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France plus Germany.

Salehi said "consultations are under way between (Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed) Jalili and Catherine Ashton," the EU foreign policy chief who represents the P5+1 in nuclear talks with Iran.

"The date and venue of the talks will be announced by the Supreme National Supreme Council" which oversees the nuclear negotiations, he added.

At the most recent talks, in Moscow last June, Tehran rejected P5+1 calls for it to scale back its uranium enrichment activities, while also asking for relief from sanctions that began to bite in 2012.

The West, spearheaded by the Islamic republic's arch-foes the United States and Israel, accuses Tehran of working towards acquiring atomic weapons under the guise of its civilian nuclear programme, a charge Iran vehemently denies.

Iran refuses to halt uranium enrichment, the most controversial aspect of its nuclear drive, saying it is purely for civilian purposes.

Tehran has been slapped by multiple sets of UN sanctions for its refusal to stop enrichment. The US and the EU have also imposed additional sanctions aimed at convincing Tehran to come clean about its nuclear ambitions.

Uncertainty, pessimism over next Iran nuclear talks
Vienna (AFP) Jan 24, 2013 - More than two months after US President Barack Obama's re-election opened the way for new six-power nuclear talks with Iran, no date or location for their first meeting since June has been set.

The apparent scheduling woes have combined with recent comments from an Iranian official to raise concerns that the unprecedented sanctions pressure imposed on Iran over its nuclear programme has failed to make the country more pliable -- on the contrary even.

Insiders had hoped that once Obama was free from the constraints of his lengthy re-election campaign, conditions would be favourable to make progress in the long-running crisis over Iran's nuclear intentions.

At first there were hopes that Iran would sit down with the P5+1 -- Britain, China, France, Russia, the United States, and Germany -- in December to talk about its controversial nuclear programme, which Western nations suspect is aimed at developing the bomb.

This then slipped to January, of which one week remains.

The latest proposal out of Tehran on Wednesday from Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi was for Cairo, but he gave no date. A top Russian official said Istanbul before the end of February was a possibility.

A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, the chief negotiator for the P5+1, told AFP that "concrete dates and venue" were proposed in December and that the six countries -- the five permanent members of the UN Security Council plus Germany -- were "very flexible".

But the spokesman, Michael Mann, indicated that the date and the city were not the problem.

Iran has "come back to us again and again with new pre-conditions on the modalities of the talks, for example by changing the venue and delaying their responses", he said.

A new "analysis" by Mahdi Mohammadi, a member of Iran's negotiating team, posted at on January 9, indicates that Iran and the P5+1 remain poles apart.

He said that the United States and the European Union "should remove all unilateral sanctions against Iran and Iran, for its part, will take immediate steps to address the remaining concerns of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)."

Only then, he said, will Iran be "ready to negotiate about 20-percent enrichment provided that the United Nations Security Council will annul all its sanctions resolutions against Tehran".

For the P5+1 this is the wrong way around.

Iran's growing capacity to enrich uranium to fissile purities of 20 percent is for the six powers the most worrisome part of its nuclear programme, because if further enriched it could be used in a bomb. Iran denies this is its aim.

In Baghdad in May, the P5+1 called on Iran to suspend 20-percent enrichment, close its Fordo nuclear facility and ship abroad the uranium it has already processed. Mohammadi made no mention of either of these last two demands.

The six made no concrete pledge in May to ease sanctions in return, leading Iran to walk away from the following round of talks in Moscow in June.

Tehran has been slapped by multiple sets of UN sanctions for its refusal to stop enrichment. The US and the EU have also imposed additional sanctions.

"If the multilateral sanctions are lifted too soon in the negotiating process, should the negotiation ultimately fail it may be very difficult to restore them," Mark Hibbs from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told AFP.

Deeper cooperation between Iran and the IAEA, meanwhile, in particular letting the UN body investigate suspected past nuclear weapons research, is important but has not been a make-or-break issue for the P5+1.

Mohammadi's mention of it suggests that Iran might use the issue as a bargaining chip, analysts say. Iran's failure last week to reach a deal with the IAEA could also be seen as another sign of Tehran talking tough.

-- 'Smoke-out' --

Mark Fitzpatrick from the International Institute for Strategic Studies said that Iran may be engaging in "pre-negotiation negotiation, trying to smoke out the six powers on what might be offered on sanctions relief."

"I wouldn't be surprised if this stage of pre-talk negotiations drags on for a while," Fitzpatrick told AFP. "But it is dangerous for Iran to play with this game."

Cliff Kupchan from political risk consultancy Eurasia said that sooner or later the two sides will have to meet.

"As January ticks away I think structural reality will set in for both sides. The Obama administration would very much like to resolve this issue diplomatically," Kupchan told AFP.

"The Iranians have severe economic difficulties right now... and sanctions are just going to get worse. Iran is certainly not dealing from a position of strength."


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