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Brussels (AFP) Nov 15, 2012
Top negotiators from six world powers will meet in Brussels next week to discuss diplomatic efforts to defuse the Iran nuclear crisis, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton's office said Thursday.
The meeting to be hosted by Ashton on Wednesday will be the first on the sensitive issue since the US election that saw President Barack Obama returned to office and comes ahead of an expected new round of talks with Iran by early 2013 at the latest.
Political directors from the so-called P5+1 group -- the five permanent UN Security Council members, the United States, China, Russia, Britain and France, plus Germany -- last met to discuss Iran's nuclear programme in New York in September.
But the last high-level talks attended by Iran, which all but failed, were held in Moscow in June, with Tehran rejecting P5+1 calls for it to scale back its nuclear activities which the West suspect are a cover for efforts to build an atomic bomb.
Ashton's office said the November 21 gathering, held on the eve of an EU summit, was part of "consultations to find a diplomatic solution to the Iranian nuclear issue."
The announcement came a day after Obama promised to launch a new diplomatic push to solve the longstanding crisis, saying there was still a "window of time".
His comments came after reports of possible direct talks between Washington and Tehran that surfaced just before the US election on November 6.
"With respect to Iran, I very much want to see a diplomatic resolution to the problem," Obama told a White House press conference.
"I will try to make a push in the coming months to see if we can open up a dialogue between Iran and not just us, but the international community, to see if we can get this thing resolved."
Ashton has been chairing talks with Tehran as part of the international community's "twin-track" approach to ensure Iran cannot obtain a nuclear weapon -- tightening the economic noose through increasingly severe sanctions in hopes of bringing Tehran to the negotiating table.
Iran insists it is developing nuclear energy for peaceful, civilian purposes, but Israel and Western nations fear the programme is a cover for a drive to produce nuclear weapons.
Israel, the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear weapons state, has refused to rule out a military strike on Iran to stop it from also getting the bomb.
Diplomats close to the matter said in Brussels this week that "we have time but this can't be measured in years, or long months".
The UN nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, is meanwhile expected to release Friday its latest quarterly report showing Iran's continued progress expanding its activities despite pressure of sanctions and cyberattacks.
The IAEA is also due to hold talks in Tehran on December 13, their first since August, aimed at pressing Iran to address allegations of suspected nuclear weapons research work published in a major report by the agency a year ago.
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