Iran, EU officials seek common ground to renew nuclear talks

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Iranian and European Union officials meet in Istanbul today in an attempt to establish common ground for another round of international talks on the Islamic Republic's nuclear program.

The meeting will be between Helga Schmid, deputy head of the EU's foreign relations arm, and Ali Bagheri, Iran's deputy negotiator on the nuclear issue, according to a statement by the office of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton yesterday. After that, Ashton and Saeed Jalili, Iran's chief negotiator, will be in contact "about the prospects for a future meeting at the political level," it said.

The US and its allies have raised concerns that Iran is concealing a nuclear-weapons program, a charge Iran rejects, saying it needs the technology to generate power for its growing population and to pursue medical research.

Israel has warned that it may carry out military strikes against Iran to halt its program. The US has also declined to rule out the use of force, while urging Israel to give sanctions and diplomacy an opportunity to work.

"We all prefer a diplomatic resolution, and Iran's leaders still have the opportunity to make the right decision," Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in Jerusalem last week. "Our own choice is clear: We will use all elements of American power to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon."

Nuclear talks with Iran resumed in Istanbul in April after an interval of more than a year. The last high-level discussions involving members of the so-called P5+1 -- U.K., US, China, Russia, France and Germany -- were held in Moscow in June.

Talks downgraded

After that meeting failed to produce results, the talks were downgraded to "technical level" and a meeting took place in Istanbul earlier this month.

"We cannot negotiate forever," Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman told reporters after meeting European Union officials in Brussels today. "We hope to see substantial results."

The EU imposed an oil embargo against Iran, the second- biggest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, effective from the start of this month. The US has also placed financial and trade sanctions on Iran, including a ban on transactions with its central bank.

The P5+1 negotiators say they want Iran to stop enrichment of uranium to 20 percent, a step short of bomb grade, and ship the fuel it has already enriched to that level out of the country. They are also seeking the closure of the mountainside Fordo atomic facility.

Atomic technology

Iran, a signatory to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, says it wants recognition of its right to enrich uranium, a lifting of sanctions and increased transfer of atomic technology, as well as a regional security accord.

"If Iran's rights are officially, specifically and fully, acknowledged, it'll be an acceptable conclusion for us," Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Ramin Mehmanparast told reporters in Tehran today. "Iran has announced that it is ready in return to take measures to allay their concerns."

Mehmanparast said on July 17 that "if the two sides reach an understanding and agree on an agenda for continuation of talks, the venue and date of next negotiations will be decided."

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