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Iran ready to restart nuclear talks


The reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran (AP)

The reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran (AP)

The reactor building of the Bushehr nuclear power plant in Iran (AP)

Iran has offered to negotiate with Britain and five other world powers over its disputed nuclear programme in a new bid to end growing concern that it could be used to produce weapons.

The move, following a hiatus of more than a year, was anticipated in the wake of an invitation to the Iranian leadership last month by chief EU envoy Catherine Ashton and following repeated statements by Tehran officials that they were ready for talks.

Baroness Ashton called the Iranian offer "a very important" development, but after eight years of Tehran refusing to halt uranium enrichment despite United Nations Security Council sanctions, other countries trying to engage Iran expressed little hope of a breakthrough.

German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle said the readiness to talk should be viewed positively, "but out of the signals ... must come really concrete talks".

Tehran has said its uranium enrichment is designed only to generate nuclear power. But it also could be used to manufacture weapons-grade uranium.

While Tehran argues that it has a right to enrich for peaceful purposes, international concern is building over its nuclear secrecy and its refusal to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency to follow up on US and other intelligence detailing alleged Iranian experiments geared at making nuclear arms.

Iran's Supreme National Security Council said in a letter to the EU's foreign policy chief that Iran was ready to hold talks after November 10 "in a place and on a date convenient to both sides", the country's news agency reported.

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Baroness Ashton had suggested Vienna, but the venue remained undetermined. According to a UN diplomat familiar with the talks, the two sides were exchanging letters on the date and place of the November meeting.

With expectations modest, Washington appears keen to use the talks to demonstrate unity among the six powers - the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and Germany - in trying to bring Tehran to a nuclear compromise.

But unity has been strained by disagreement over Iran's earlier offer to resume talks that are separate from the six-nation negotiations. Those talks involving the US, Russia, France and Iran stalled last year after Tehran refused an offer to ship out most of its low-enriched uranium and have it turned into fuel rods for its isotope-making research reactor.

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