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U.S. hopes nuclear talks with Iran may resume soon

SUWEIMEH, Jordan (Reuters) - The United States hopes talks will resume soon with Iran to address core issues at the heart of its disputed nuclear programme, Deputy U.S. Energy Secretary Daniel Poneman said on Thursday.

“We hope that a date ... and a place can be set for those talks very soon,” Poneman told Reuters in an interview on the sidelines of a meeting of the International Framework for Nuclear Energy Cooperation (IFNEC) at the Dead Sea in Jordan.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said on October 29 Iran was ready to hold its first talks in more than a year with a group of six world powers. They would be the first negotiations since the United Nations, the United States and European Union imposed tougher sanctions on Iran this year.

“We are ready to engage with Iran. The resumption of talks and addressing those core issues is the right thing to do,” Poneman said.

Poneman said Iran’s renewed readiness to engage in talks was prompted by this year’s round of U.N. sanctions, the fourth in the last four years aimed at curbing a nuclear programme the West suspects is a cover for making bombs.

“You are seeing the effect of that policy. That’s why finally it seems Lady Ashton is getting an affirmative response from the Iranians to re-engage in those talks,” he said.

Iran says its nuclear programme is not military.

The six global powers -- Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and the United States -- want Iran to suspend enrichment work which can have both civilian and military uses, in exchange for trade and diplomatic benefits on offer since 2006.

“It is very important Iran should come back with full compliance with its obligations,” Poneman said.

Poneman, who had helped negotiate a stalled deal last year in Vienna under which Iran would transfer enriched uranium to Russia for processing into fuel for reactors, said the idea of a fuel swap was still a valid option.

“I want to be strategic here and say what was important last year was that a significant portion of that material that had been produced in Iran be moved out of Iran so that we can actually have the confidence built that Iran’s intentions were not toward the military nuclear option.”

The U.S. State Department said last month Washington and the EU were preparing a new offer to Iran on a swap that would include tougher conditions than those Tehran rejected last year.

“It is imperative to get the material out of Iran for that kind of confidence to be built,” Poneman added.

Tehran has seemed keener on resuming talks on the fuel exchange deal that would see it send low-grade uranium abroad and receive higher-grade fuel for a medical research reactor in return.

Poneman said he supported a tougher approach by the U.N. nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), including invoking special inspections powers to give the IAEA the authority to look anywhere at short notice.

“We strongly support the IAEA in the fulfillment of its responsibilities through the full use of their available resources,” he said.

Iranian non-compliance could open the door for yet a further round of penalties by the international community, Poneman said.

“Again the hope now is that they will engage constructively. I guess the consequences of not doing so would be more pressure and I think it would be up to the international community in discussions in New York and other forums to decide what specific measures these would be.”

Writing by Suleiman al-Khalidi; Editing by Peter Graff

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