Iran says it is ready to restart nuclear talks

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TEHRAN: Iran notified the European Union Friday that it is willing to restart international negotiations over its nuclear program after Nov. 10, potentially reviving talks that foundered a year ago.

Iran’s Supreme National Security Council said in a letter to the EU’s foreign policy chief that Iran is ready to hold talks "in a place and on a date convenient to both sides," the official news agency reported.

Since the break-off in talks, the United States, EU and the United Nations have stepped up financial sanctions on Tehran. The negotiations between Iran and a group of six nations, including the United States, stalled in October 2009 over a deal meant to ensure Iran could only use its stockpile of enriched uranium for fueling nuclear reactors and not for building bombs.

In Brussels, the EU confirmed it had received the letter, which was sent by the office of top Iranian nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili. EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton called the offer "a very important" development.

In last year’s talks, Iran balked at a UN-drafted proposal to send its enriched uranium abroad to be further processed and made into fuel rods that would be returned for use in powering a medical research reactor.

That would have left Iran, at least temporarily, without enough enriched uranium stockpiles to produce a weapon. The fuel rods could not easily be further process to the higher, weapons-grade level of enrichment needed to make the fissile core of warheads.

Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful and has no intention to build a weapon. Seven months after that deal was proposed, Iran said it would be willing to make a similar fuel swap negotiated by Turkey and Brazil, but that failed to satisfy the other world powers, leading to the fourth round of UN sanctions.

In Friday’s message, Iran referred to an earlier letter that included conditions for restarting talks.

That letter, sent in July, asked the six nations to clarify their position on Israel’s nuclear program, which is widely believed to have included the production of a sizable nuclear arsenal. Iran failed in a push in September for the UN nuclear agency to censure Israel for shielding its nuclear programs from inspection.

Earlier this month, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad endorsed the idea of new talks but warned they would fail if the West does not clearly come out against Israel’s suspected nuclear arsenal.

Friday’s letter, however, did not specifically list those conditions, which also included a demand to know when sanctions would be lifted and when the U.S. would give up its nuclear weapons.

Iran insists it only seeks to master enrichment technology to produce fuel for a planned network of nuclear power facilities. Earlier this week, Iran began loading fuel into the reactor core of its first nuclear power plant in the southern port of Bushehr, which was built with Russia’s help.

Besides the U.S., the other nations negotiating with Iran are Britain, France, Russia, China and Germany.

Earlier this month, Ashton invited Iran back to talks, suggesting they be held in Vienna "over three days in mid-November."

This week, the EU published its own sanctions against Iran in its official journal. Spanning 87 pages, they prohibit investing in Iran’s oil and gas industries, including the transfer of equipment and technology.

Also targeted are shipping, air freight, insurance and banking, and companies and individuals linked to the Revolutionary Guard Corps. EU governments will also monitor the activities of Iranian financial institutions on their territory.

The EU’s sanctions go beyond measures adopted by the UN Security Council. An EU diplomat said Friday "the sanctions will be lifted if and when the nuclear talks are successfully completed. We have told Iran so."

The EU is Iran’s largest trading partner. Germany, Austria and Italy also have significant economic ties with Tehran. –Mike Corder contributed to this report from Brussels.


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