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Iran hopes to join WTO in 5 to 7 years: minister

GENEVA (Reuters) - Iran, which took steps last month to revive its 13-year old application to join the World Trade Organization, hopes to enter the global trade body by 2017, Commerce Minister Mehdi Ghazanfari said on Wednesday.

Iran’s application to join the WTO, whose consensus system gives every member a veto on decisions, has been held up by Western concern about Tehran’s nuclear program.

But the United States lifted its objections to accession negotiations in 2005, and Iran sent the WTO a memorandum on its trade policies -- which would form the basis of negotiations -- at the end of last month.

“If we think about the economic point of view, I think it’s between five and seven years (from now),” Ghazanfari told reporters during a WTO conference when asked when he expected Iran to get into the organization.

His words clearly raised the possibility that politics would continue to pose an obstacle. But he declined to comment on the impact of the nuclear program on future talks, saying the commerce ministry would be pursuing the WTO negotiations from the point of view of trade.

He also declined to say whether Iran was willing to lift its trade boycott of WTO member Israel -- something it would be required to do under WTO non-discrimination rules -- saying that was a matter for future negotiation.

Saudi Arabia dropped its boycott of Israel when it joined the WTO in 2005.

Earlier this week a group of developing countries issued a declaration at the conference saying politics should not influence the accession process.

Ghazanfari said the next step would be for WTO members to form a working group and appoint a chairman to steer the negotiations. He expected the working group would meet in one or two months.

The nomination of the chairman must be approved by the WTO’s general council, but it is not yet clear whether it will be on the agenda of its next meeting on December 17.

Trade sources say the chairman could be Switzerland’s ambassador to the WTO, Luzius Wasescha.

Reporting by Jonathan Lynn; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall