EU foreign policy chief to meet Iran nuclear negotiator

BRUSSELS/VIENNA Mon Sep 17, 2012 10:24am EDT

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano attends a news conference during a board of governors meeting at the United Nations headquarters in Vienna September 10, 2012. REUTERS/Herwig Prammer

International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Yukiya Amano attends a news conference during a board of governors meeting at the United Nations headquarters in Vienna September 10, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Herwig Prammer

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BRUSSELS/VIENNA (Reuters) - EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton will meet Iran's chief nuclear negotiator on Tuesday, Ashton's office said on Monday, as German Chancellor Angela Merkel said a political solution was still possible in the stand-off over Tehran's atomic program.

The head of the U.N. atomic watchdog, Yukiya Amano, also said on Monday his agency would hold more talks with the Islamic state aimed at allaying Western concerns that Iran is attempting to develop nuclear weapons, a charge Tehran denies.

Ashton will meet Iran negotiator Saeed Jalili in Istanbul as "part of continuing efforts to engage with Iran", after talks between world powers and Iran in Moscow in June failed to secure a breakthrough in the dispute.

"While it is not a formal negotiating round, the meeting will be an opportunity to stress once again to Iran the need for an urgent and meaningful confidence-building step" and to show more flexibility with proposals put forward by world powers in earlier talks, Ashton's spokeswoman said.

Merkel told a news conference in Berlin that Iran posed a threat not just to Israel but to the whole world, but added: "I support a political solution ... and I believe that we are not at the point where the search for political solutions has been exhausted."

International Atomic Energy Agency chief Amano said the U.N. agency, which is investigating Tehran's atomic activities, was "firmly committed" to intensifying dialogue with the Islamic state despite the lack of progress so far.

Amano, addressing his organization's annual member state gathering in Vienna, gave no date for a possible new round of talks that began in January between IAEA officials and Iran, which says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes. The last meeting was in August.

IRAN ACCUSES U.N. AGENCY

But Iran's atomic energy agency chief Fereydoun Abbasi-Davani accused the U.N. watchdog of a cynical approach and mismanagement when he addressed the gathering.

He suggested that "terrorists and saboteurs" might have infiltrated the agency, and that it was influenced by "certain states", a clear reference to Tehran's Western foes.

Iran's relations with the IAEA have become increasingly strained in recent years as the agency has voiced growing concern about possible military dimensions to Tehran's nuclear program. But Abbasi-Davani's outburst was unusually strong in such an international forum.

The European Union reiterated its demand in a statement at the gathering that Iran must suspend uranium enrichment - which the Islamic state has repeatedly rejected.

The demand that Iran suspend enrichment is enshrined in a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions since 2006.

The IAEA has been trying to reach a framework accord with Iran that would allow the Vienna-based U.N. agency to resume a long-stalled investigation into suspected atom bomb research in the Islamic Republic.

"We will continue negotiations with Iran on a structured approach to resolving all outstanding issues," Amano said, referring to such an accord.

"I hope we can reach agreement without further delay, to be followed by immediate implementation," he said.

(Reporting by Fredrik Dahl and Adrian Croft; Additional reporting by Stephen Brown and Noah Barkin; Editing by Pravin Char)

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