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West to seek objective guarantees from Iran: Solana

GOTHENBURG, Sweden (Reuters) - World powers will seek guarantees from Iran that its nuclear programme is peaceful, but this is unlikely to be an easy task, Europe’s top diplomat said on Tuesday ahead of talks with Iran.

EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana said the Western powers were determined to stay engaged with Iran, even though the talks in Geneva on Thursday, the first in over a year, were likely to be tough.

“My expectation, or my hope, is that we will be able to get engaged in order to get the guarantees from Tehran, that the programme in which they are engaged in nuclear is a peaceful programme,” he told reporters at an EU defense ministers’ meeting in Gothenburg, Sweden.

“For the moment, we have not obtained the objective guarantees that that project is only a project which is peaceful,” he said. “I don’t think it will be easy to ask for, but we will continue to engage.”

Solana, who has headed Western negotiating efforts with Iran on the nuclear issue, will be joined by U.S., British, French, Russian, Chinese and German foreign ministry political directors in talks with Iranian negotiator Saeed Jalili.

Western powers suspect Iran is developing the capability to produce nuclear weapons under cover of a civilian atomic energy programme. Tehran denies this but refuses to suspend its uranium enrichment campaign as demanded by the U.N. Security Council.

The six powers have said they want Iran to respond substantively to their offer of trade and political incentives in exchange for a suspension of sensitive nuclear activities by Tehran and improved cooperation with U.N. inspectors.

But Western diplomats say Jalili is unlikely to have a response and do not expect the meeting to resolve the long-running standoff with Iran. The most likely outcome, they say, is that all sides will confirm their positions and the overall dispute will remain unresolved.

However, they said Iran’s willingness to talk and the U.S. presence, headed by undersecretary of state for political affairs William Burns, for direct dialogue with Iran were positive developments in themselves.

Reporting by Mia Shanley and David Brunnstrom; editing by Samia Nakhoul