Iran welcomes nuclear talks offer, seeks dates

BRUSSELS Fri Oct 15, 2010 7:32am EDT

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki attends a news conference in Tehran in this October 9, 2010 file photo. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl

Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki attends a news conference in Tehran in this October 9, 2010 file photo.

Credit: Reuters/Morteza Nikoubazl

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Iran welcomed on Friday a proposal to restart talks with six major powers on its nuclear programme next month and called for a date to be agreed for the first such meeting in a year.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton suggested Vienna on Thursday as the venue for three-day talks involving the United States, Germany, Russia, France, Britain and China.

"As you are fully aware, recently I announced that October or November from our point of view is a good time to restart talks between Iran and the 5+1 (major powers)," Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki told reporters in Brussels.

"It is good news that authorities here are following the matter. This is the way to coordinate some specific, fixed date for starting talks," he said before international talks on the economic development of Pakistan and fighting terrorism.

The United States and its European allies fear Iran's civilian nuclear energy programme is a cover to develop the capability for producing nuclear weapons.

Iran, a major oil producer, says it needs nuclear fuel-making technology to generate electricity and denies it is developing atomic arms.

Talks between Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany stalled in October last year, leading to a toughening of international sanctions on Tehran.

AHMEDINEJAD'S CONDITIONS

Ashton and Iranian chief nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili have exchanged letters about resuming talks, but no date has been agreed for a meeting and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has set conditions for further talks.

He says a greater variety of countries should be involved, the parties must say whether they seek friendship or hostility with Iran, and must express a view on Israel's alleged nuclear arsenal.

Western officials are wary of what they see as Iranian efforts to dodge the main issue in talks, possibly buying time for advances in nuclear enrichment.

There was no indication that Mottaki and Ashton would discuss the resumption of talks during his stay in Brussels but the Briton confirmed she had not received a formal response to her proposal to resume talks next month.

"I've always said we want to see negotiations. We do believe a solution can be found and we'd like to get on with it," Ashton told reporters before the international talks on Pakistan.

She said the major powers would press on with a twin-track approach of keeping pressure on Tehran while pursuing dialogue.

"It's the dialogue that will resolve it," she said.

(Writing by Timothy Heritage, editing by Rex Merrifield and Charles Dick)

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