* No date yet for new round of nuclear negotiations
* Nuclear dispute could unravel into Middle East war
* Ahmadinejad: some Iranian officials lack interest in deal
By Justyna Pawlak
BRUSSELS, Dec 12 Big powers hope soon to agree
with Iran to hold a new round of nuclear talks in another bid to
resolve a protracted dispute over Tehran's atomic programme and
avert the increasing threat of a downward spiral into Middle
Iran is seen by the six powers to be covertly trying to
develop the means to produce nuclear weapons. They want to rein
in the Islamic Republic's uranium enrichment programme, to
ensure it is geared only for civilian energy as Iran maintains
it is, through a mix of diplomacy and economic sanctions.
They are eager to make progress soon because of Israel's
increasingly pointed threats to bomb Iranian nuclear sites.
Israel, widely understood to be the only nuclear power in the
Middle East, views Iran's nuclear drive as a mortal threat.
Senior EU and Iranian diplomats discussed the timing and
venue of possible new talks on Wednesday, said a spokesman for
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who oversees contacts
with the Islamic Republic on behalf of six countries.
"Deputy Secretary-General Helga Schmid had a telephone call
with (the) Iranian deputy nuclear negotiator... in order to
discuss the way ahead, including possible dates and venues for a
meeting with Iran," he said, referring to a senior member of the
EU diplomatic service.
"We hope that agreement with Iran can soon be reached on how
to continue the talks and make concrete progress towards
addressing international concerns."
Britain, France, Germany, United States, Russia and China
are hoping to agree on confidence-building measures as a step
towards a final agreement with Iran. Three rounds of
negotiations this year produced no breakthrough.
Western diplomats have said a new round could be scheduled
as soon as January, but Ashton's spokesman declined to say what
dates were discussed in Wednesday's conference call.
PREPARATIONS TAKING PLACE
Last month, senior diplomats from the six countries met in
Brussels to prepare a new proposal for talks.
They are particularly concerned about Iran enriching uranium
to 20 percent fissile purity, an important technological advance
that brings it significantly closer to the threshold of
weapons-grade material. They also want Iran to cooperate fully
with the watchdog International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said on Wednesday some
politicians in the Islamic Republic were reluctant to resolve
the nuclear dispute, apparently referring to hardline
conservative rivals in Tehran's factionalised ruling elite.
Experts see Ahmadinejad as sidelined on nuclear policy, and
his comments underlined differences between him and supporters
of clerical Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
The president has been criticised by hardliners within
Iran's power structure for saying Tehran was ready for dialogue
with the United States on the nuclear programme.
"Our policy is cooperation with the International Atomic
Energy Agency," Ahmadinejad was quoted as saying by the Iranian
Students' News Agency (ISNA).
"Of course in Iran some do not want the issue to be resolved
and think it is better this way," he said, without elaborating.
In Vienna on Wednesday, a senior IAEA official said agency
inspectors travelling to Iran would be prepared to go to its
disputed Parchin military complex if the Islamic state were to
allow a visit during talks in Tehran this week.
The IAEA believes Iran has done explosives tests with
possible nuclear applications at Parchin, a facility southeast
of the Iranian capital, and has repeatedly asked for access.