VIENNA/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Iran on Tuesday held out the prospect of “deeper cooperation” with the U.N. nuclear watchdog as it gears up for talks with world powers that are likely to be held in Turkey.
Iranian nuclear energy agency chief Ali Akbar Salehi spoke in upbeat terms after meeting Mohamed ElBaradei, outgoing director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“We managed to come to an agreement to set a new framework for better and deeper cooperation in the future,” Salehi told reporters, summarizing talks with ElBaradei in Vienna.
He gave no details and the IAEA made no comment. A senior diplomat close to the IAEA said Salehi made no commitments to specific new transparency steps but spoke of a better climate taking shape for ways to ease mistrust in Tehran’s nuclear work.
Still, the diplomat said, Salehi gave no ground on IAEA demands for wide-reaching, snap inspections to verify no nuclear materials or know-how were being diverted for military purposes, or on Iranian cooperation with an IAEA probe into intelligence reports suggesting Tehran researched ways to build atom bombs.
The Islamic Republic rejects Western suspicions that it is covertly trying to develop a nuclear arms capability, insisting it is enriching uranium solely as fuel for nuclear power plants.
Tehran has agreed to wide-ranging talks with six world powers but has ruled out discussing its nuclear activities. The United States and the European Union, on the other hand, insist the nuclear issue must be the focus.
EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told reporters the venue for the October 1 meeting would “very likely” be Turkey.
Solana said Western policy remained “twin track”: to offer incentives to Iran — which has refused to shelve enrichment — while holding out the threat of further sanctions. But he said now was not the time to talk about these.
“At this point in time we are going to try to enter into negotiations,” he said. “Let’s talk about that.”
Russia has been resistant to tougher U.N. sanctions, but President Dmitry Medvedev on Monday declined to rule them out. “Sanctions are not very effective on the whole, but sometimes you have to embark on sanctions,” Medvedev said.
Solana, who has been representing the six powers — the United States, France, Germany, Britain, China and Russia — in long-running efforts to resolve the row with Iran, was cautious when asked how much he thought the new talks could achieve.
But he urged Tehran to take advantage of stepped-up U.S. engagement in the talks process under the administration of President Barack Obama.
“I always intend to try and achieve as much as possible in the negotiations. But it is not the first time we meet. We know each other well,” he said.
“There are some things that are new. The Americans will be present in a formalized manner. That is new, and I think that has to be evaluated positively by the Iranians.”
Salehi said on Monday Iran would not negotiate on its “sovereign right” to nuclear energy but, if that were recognized, it was ready to discuss any issue at the talks, including ways of upholding non-proliferation globally.
Also on Monday, a senior U.S. official called Iran’s agreement to enter talks an “important first step,” but the White House said Iran would underline its failure to meet international obligations if it stuck to its refusal to discuss its nuclear program.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu welcomed Iran’s decision to enter talks as “an important step.”
EU foreign ministers discussed the Iranian nuclear issue on Monday evening, and Finnish Foreign Minister Alexander Stubb said more sanctions would be needed if talks did not succeed.
He said these should come from the United Nations, but if that were not possible, the EU should act unilaterally.
Additional reporting by Bate Felix in Brussels, Ibon Villelabeitia in Ankara and Yu Le in Beijing; writing by Mark Trevelyan; editing by Andrew Roche