Iran says it hopes for further nuclear talks

GENEVA Mon Feb 28, 2011 4:00pm EST

Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi addresses the high level segment of the 16th session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, February 28, 2011. REUTERS/Valentin Flauraud

Iran's Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi addresses the high level segment of the 16th session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations European headquarters in Geneva, February 28, 2011.

Credit: Reuters/Valentin Flauraud

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GENEVA (Reuters) - Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said he held fruitful and frank discussions with his European Union counterpart on Monday that he hoped would lead to further talks on Iran's disputed nuclear program.

Salehi, who was previously head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization, told reporters in Geneva that Iran had always indicated a willingness to press on with talks with the "P5+1" -- the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany.

Referring to his meeting in Geneva with EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, he said: "I hope that the meeting today will facilitate the work for the upcoming meeting with 5+1."

Iran held talks on its nuclear program in January in Istanbul with the United States, France, Germany, China, Russia and Britain, but they ended without progress. Global powers have proposed a fuel swap as a step toward ending the standoff.

Michael Mann, a spokesman for Ashton, said the Geneva meeting was her first with Salehi, who took over as foreign minister on January 30, a week after the Istanbul talks.

"The High Representative used it as an opportunity to repeat her disappointment at the lack of movement by the Iranian side at the Istanbul talks and to urge the Iranians to engage seriously to move the talks forward," Mann said.

The U.N. Security Council has imposed four rounds of sanctions on Tehran for refusing to freeze its uranium enrichment program, which Western powers suspect is aimed at producing a nuclear weapon. Iran says its program is for peaceful energy needs.

Salehi, who will address a United Nations disarmament body on Tuesday, also said safety was more important than a quick start-up date for Iran's $1 billion Bushehr reactor plant.

SAFETY FIRST

"Safety for us and reliability is more important than the start-up of a reactor at an earlier time," Salehi said.

Experts familiar with the issue said on Monday that Iran appears to have told the U.N. atomic watchdog that a broken pump is forcing it to remove fuel from the Russian-built Bushehr plant, which has yet to start injecting power into Iran's national grid.

Salehi was also asked about two Americans detained in Iran on suspicion of espionage since their arrest near Iran's border with Iraq in July 2009. Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal pleaded not guilty in court earlier this month.

"Well, we already saw the freedom (liberation) of two Germans that were detained in Iran," he said, referring to German journalists freed last week after four months of detention for meeting the son of a woman sentenced to death by stoning. "About the two Americans, we are working on it."

"We hope that this entire process will be expedited and that our judiciary will very objectively look into the case. We hope that we will see this case come to an end in the future, in the not too far future, I hope," he said.

The Americans say they were hiking in Iraq, and if they crossed the unmarked border into Iran, it was by mistake.

Earlier on Monday, in remarks to the U.N. Human Rights Council, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton singled out Iran for pursuing "policies of violence abroad and tyranny at home" and urged the region's people to reject extremism and violence as avenues of political change.

(Editing by Laura MacInnis and Mark Trevelyan)

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