EU, Iran diplomats to meet for nuclear talks in July

BRUSSELS Mon Jul 9, 2012 12:23pm EDT

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Senior diplomats from the European Union and Iran will meet on July 24 for technical talks on Tehran's disputed nuclear program to try to salvage diplomatic efforts to resolve the decade-long standoff, EU officials said on Monday.

The meeting in Istanbul will be the second in a series of discussions to clarify technical aspects of Tehran's activity.

It follows an agreement by Iran and six world powers in June to use such talks to decide whether diplomacy tackling broader political issues should continue in the face of vast differences in views over the nature of Iran's nuclear ambitions.

"The objective for the meeting ... is to look further at how existing gaps in positions could be narrowed and how the process could be moved forward," a spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said.

Ashton is spearheading nuclear talks with Iran on behalf of the United States, China, Russia, Britain, Germany and France.

Without a deal, the stalemate over Iran's nuclear aspirations could boil over into a regional war that could destabilize oil markets and damage the fragile global economy.

In a series of negotiation rounds this year, neither side has been willing to budge. The six powers want Tehran to scale back its uranium enrichment, and in particular to stop refining the material to levels close to weapons-grade, because of their suspicions that Tehran wants to acquire a nuclear bomb.

Iran, which denies its work has any military dimensions, wants international sanctions lifted before it makes any concessions, and formal recognition of a right to enrich uranium. But the six are loath to make concessions before seeing evidence of Iranian willingness to address their concerns.

New sanctions went into place in the past few weeks, with EU governments imposing an embargo on Iranian oil on July 1.

Ashton's spokesman said talks would continue after the July 24 meeting between Iran's deputy chief negotiator, Ali Bagheri, and a senior member of Ashton's team, Helga Schmid. Ashton and Iran's chief negotiator, Saeed Jalili, would be in contact in the future, he said.

Tensions between the West and Iran have increased since high-level negotiations foundered in Moscow in June, with Tehran saying it had successfully tested medium-range missiles capable of hitting Israel as a response to threats of attack.

(Reporting by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Martk Heinrich)

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