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Big powers to press Iran on nuclear issue at talks

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran says nuclear issues are not even up for discussion when it meets major powers in Geneva on Monday, so chances of agreement are slim, though the first such talks in a year may yet lead to more substantial negotiations.

But even if Iran and the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council plus Germany do agree to meet again, the process is likely to be long and tortuous, and prospects for agreement over Iran’s nuclear program remain minimal.

The United States urged Iran to enter the talks in good faith and warned of more pressure and isolation if Tehran continues its current uranium enrichment activities which the West suspects is a veil for efforts to build nuclear weapons.

“We urge you to make that choice -- for your people, your interests, and our shared security,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told a security conference in Bahrain.

“We urge you to restore the confidence of the international community and live up to your obligations.”

The European Union hopes the talks will be the start of re-engagement with Iran.

“This is an important meeting; we’ve waited a long time for it. It’s not an important meeting because it will solve problems instantly or produce instant results. We hope it will produce a re-engagement with Iran ... which over time will produce results,” an EU source told reporters on Friday.

But President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said this week Iran would not even discuss its enrichment activities in Geneva. Instead, Iran is offering solutions to international issues such as global economic problems and peace in the Middle East.

“The subject of Iran’s nuclear program has to be first and foremost on the agenda,” said Glyn Davies, ambassador to the U.N. nuclear watchdog in Vienna.

Going into the talks, both the West and Iran may have grounds to feel they are winning the battle of wills.

United Nations, U.S. and EU sanctions imposed from June are biting harder than many expected, and Iran’s agreement to even attend talks may be a measure of that. Iranian leaders say the current measures are not having any effect and also know Russia and China are likely to try to dilute any further moves.

Iran’s hardline rulers’ defiance of the West also rallies nationalist support and distracts attention from economic woes.

Meanwhile, the United States says all options, including military, remain on the table. Iran’s arch enemy Israel has also not ruled out a military strike to halt Iran’s nuclear activities, if diplomatic efforts led by the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany fail.

POLITICAL FACTIONS UNITED

The United States and its allies suspect the Islamic Republic is stealthily pursuing nuclear weapons capability through the enrichment of uranium. Iran denies this, saying it only wants to generate electricity so it can export more oil.

But Iran has only the Tehran Research Reactor to use all the low-enriched material it is stockpiling, and many experts doubt it has the technical know-how to convert it for use. Iran’s one Russian-built nuclear power plant uses only Russian fuel.

Iranian authorities say the country’s nuclear program has reached a no-return point and the international community should instead learn how to live with Iran’s nuclear status.

“Look at the previous experiences (of talks) ... buying time is essential for Iran,” said Mohsen Sardari, a Dubai-based Iranian political analyst.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last say on all state matters, has shown no sign of backing down over Iran’s nuclear activities, one of the rare issues on which all rival political factions in Iran share the same view.

“Whether reformists or hardliners, all Iranian politicians want Iran to continue the enrichment,” said Iranian political analyst Hossein Farivar. He ruled out any effect of the ongoing infighting among hardline elites on Iran’s nuclear stance.

Iran wants U.N. sanctions to be lifted, threatening to review the level of its cooperation with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the Vienna-based U.N. nuclear watchdog, which needs to verify there are no sites anywhere in the vast country geared to producing highly enriched uranium.

Ahmadinejad also accused the U.N. on Wednesday of complicity in killing of a nuclear scientist in Tehran, adding Iran held those countries who had issued resolutions against the Islamic state were also accountable.

Additional reporting by Mitra Amiri and Ramin Mostafavi in Tehran and David Brunnstrom in Brussels; Writing by Parisa Hafezi and Jon Hemming; Editing by Louise Ireland

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