Iran says wants progress in nuclear talks before action on Islamic State

PARIS/DUBAI Thu Aug 21, 2014 12:56pm EDT

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PARIS/DUBAI (Reuters) - Iran is ready to do something to help tackle Islamic State insurgents in Iraq but first wants progress in negotiations with world powers over its nuclear program, Foreign Minister Javad Zarif was quoted as saying by Iranian media.

France, one of the six nations in nuclear talks with Tehran, said on Wednesday it wanted Arab states, Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council to coordinate a comprehensive response against Islamic State, whose militant forces control large parts of Syria and Iraq.

"If we agree to do something in Iraq, the other side in the negotiations will need to do something in return," Zarif said in remarks late on Wednesday carried by state news agency IRNA.

"All the sanctions imposed on Iran over its nuclear activities should be lifted in return for its help in Iraq."

The Sunni Islamist insurgency threatening to tear apart Iraq has alarmed both Shi'ite Muslim Iran and the United States, which have had no diplomatic relations since soon after the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Tehran.

Iran has offered to cooperate with the United States on stabilizing Iraq, which like Iran has a majority Shi'ite population, but Washington has responded cautiously.

Western officials have repeatedly said they do not want to mix the nuclear dossier with events elsewhere in the region.

"If we agree to help in Iraq, the other party (the West) should also do something in return," the semi-official Mehr news agency quoted Zarif as saying. "It is still not clear what we should do in Iraq and what they (the other party) should do in return ... and this is the difficult part."

French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius urged Iran on Wednesday to be part of any coordinated action against Islamic State but said that the Iraq and nuclear issues should be dealt with independently.

"We shouldn't exchange one thing for another. While it seems indispensable that Iran participates (in an Iraq conference), it's not because it participates that we are going to say the Iran nuclear problem is resolved," said Fabius, whose country has traditionally maintained a tough stance in the Iran takls.

"These are two problems of a different nature and it would be dangerous to enter into a system where each side exchanges something for another. So let's be careful about that."

The United States and some of its allies suspect Iran is using its civilian nuclear program as a cover to develop atomic bombs. Iran denies this, saying that it is enriching uranium solely for civilian energy purposes.

Six global powers and Iran failed to meet a July 20 deadline to negotiate a comprehensive agreement under which Iran would curb its nuclear activities in exchange for the easing of economic sanctions that have crippled its economy.

The six, comprising Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States, have agreed to extend the deadline to reach a long-term, overall agreement until November 24.

They are set to hold a new round of talks with Iran ahead of next month's U.N. General Assembly in New York.

(Reporting By John Irish in Paris and Michelle Moghtader in Dubai; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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