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Iran and West hail nuclear talks

In a rare show of unity, Iran and the world's big powers have hailed their first nuclear meeting in more than a year as a key step towards further negotiations meant to ease international fears that Tehran may weaponise its nuclear programme.

The one concrete reflection of progress was an agreement to meet again on May 23 in Baghdad, a venue put forward by Iran.

But huge hurdles still lie in the way of a common understanding of what Iran should do to end suspicions of its nuclear activities. Those barriers may prove insurmountable considering the differences between Tehran and the six nations trying to persuade it to compromise on its nuclear efforts.

Since revelations surfaced 10 years ago that it was secretly building a uranium enrichment programme, Tehran has argued it has a right to enrichment to create reactor fuel under the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty, and insisted it will never use that ability to create the fissile core of a nuclear warhead.

But the United States and other countries accuse Iran of repeatedly violating the treaty and Tehran continues to expand enrichment despite four sets of United Nations Security Council resolutions and other penalties imposed by the US, Europe and others.

Adding to concerns, it now is enriching uranium to levels closer to the grade needed for nuclear weapons in an underground bunker that could be impervious to attack.

The talks in Istanbul, Turkey, on Saturday, saw the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany sitting at the same table with Iran. Knowing the road ahead is tough, both sides focused on what they said was the positive tone of the talks, in contrast to the previous round 14 months ago. That last session broke up with no progress after Iranian negotiators refused to even consider discussing enrichment.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who formally led the talks on behalf of the six powers, called the meeting "constructive and useful". She expressed the hope they would lead to "a sustained process of serious dialogue, where we can take urgent practical steps to build confidence and lead on to compliance by Iran with all its international obligations".

Iranian chief negotiator Saeed Jalili said the talks made "some progress", but acknowledged "some points of difference". "What we saw today in the talks was the interest of the other party in the talks and co-operation, which is considered positive," he told reporters.

In London, Foreign Secretary William Hague said the talks were "the first steps" towards the six-nation push to find "a peaceful, negotiated solution to the (Iran) nuclear issue".

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