* Says West accepts Iran's enrichment rights
* Jannati warns powers against further sanctions
By Marcus George
DUBAI, April 20 An influential Iranian cleric
praised recent nuclear talks between Iran and world powers on
Friday, the latest in a series of positive statements from
senior figures that analysts said could signal Tehran is
softening its stance.
Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, secretary of the powerful Guardian
Council, said the talks showed "success and progress" but added
Tehran would break off the negotiations if Western countries
carried on imposing sanctions while negotiating.
World powers held talks with Tehran in Istanbul last week
over their concerns about its nuclear programme, which the
United States and its allies say is a cover for developing an
atomic weapons capability.
Iran has refused to stop enriching uranium, despite pressure
from Western sanctions, and says its nuclear work is for purely
Western diplomats reacted to the meeting with cautious
optimism but said there was a long way to go before any deal
could be done. The two sides agreed to meet again in Baghdad on
Addressing Friday prayers, Jannati said the talks showed
"success and progress", adding: "They (western countries) are
ready to accept that enrichment is Iran's right," state media
He added Iranians needed assurances from the West that it
would no longer be their enemy.
"The West should lift sanctions against Iran but if they
continue to insist on sanctions and then say they are
negotiating with Iran, it is clear that this talks will be
halted," he warned.
Although his comments took a typically anti-Western tone,
analysts say they were a further sign of a changing attitude
within the Iranian leadership.
Earlier this week Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said
Iran was "ready to resolve all issues very quickly and simply".
His words were echoed by parliamentary speaker Ali Larijani and
senior MP Alaeddin Boroujerdi.
"Iran will bargain inch by inch in Baghdad but there is a
genuine desire to reach an agreement," said Sadeq Zibakalam, a
professor of political science at Tehran University, who was
optimistic that a deal could be reached eventually.
"They are paving the way and preparing the public for a deal
with the West. But the language is about trying to maintain that
it is not a submission and that they haven't given in."
While other analysts were less sanguine about prospects of a
deal, they agreed Tehran had altered its strategy.
"It seems to be that they are trying to shape the talks
through public diplomacy. I think they are certainly looking for
a deal but I am not sure they are going to get it," said
Professor Ali Ansari of Scotland's St Andrews University.
"They are definitely trying to change the narrative."
Sounding a more sceptical note, one western diplomat earlier
this week told Reuters the change of tone was welcome but said
Iran might just be trying to buy more time.
Analysts and some diplomats have told Reuters in recent
weeks both sides must compromise for any chance of a long-term
settlement, suggesting Iran could be allowed to continue limited
low-level enrichment if it accepts more intrusive U.N. nuclear
They added Iran might be prepared to consider an updated
proposal of a 2009 fuel swap deal that collapsed when the two
sides failed to agree on the details of implementation.
In a change from past failed negotiations, Iran has also
hinted progress could be made if the sanctions imposed by the
United States and the European Union were reviewed.
The U.S. Congress has recently debated a further round of
sanctions against Iran's energy, shipping, and mining sectors
but President Obama has not yet commented on them.
(Reporting By Marcus George; Editing by Andrew Heavens)