Last updated: 23 February, 2014

Iran says expert nuclear talks to be held next week

Iran and world powers will hold technical talks “next week” in Vienna ahead of a political meeting to negotiate a comprehensive nuclear deal, a top Iranian negotiator said on Sunday.

Iran and the P5+1 group of world powers agreed last week on a timetable and framework for the negotiations for an accord that would allay Western concerns about Iran’s nuclear programme in return for the lifting of crippling sanctions.

“The issues on the agenda are enrichment (of uranium), the lifting of sanctions and international cooperation on peaceful nuclear energy,” said Abbas Araqchi, also a deputy foreign minister.

Cited by the official IRNA news agency, Araqchi said the talks would take place on the sidelines of a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors “next week”.

He did not specify dates, but the board is set to meet in Vienna from March 3 to 7.

Negotiators hope to reach a final accord by July 20, when an interim agreement reached in November is due to expire.

Western nations and Israel have long suspected Iran of pursuing a nuclear weapons capability alongside its civilian programme, charges denied by Tehran.

Belgian Foreign Minister Didier Reynders, who is in Iran on an official two-day visit, expressed the hope that the talks could lead to a restoration of trust between Tehran and the West.

“I hope relationships that are based on trust will be revived with the nuclear negotiations and when a clear, final agreement is reached,” he said at a news conference with his Iranian counterpart Mohammad Javad Zarif.

Under the interim deal, Iran agreed to curb parts of its nuclear programme for six months in exchange for limited sanctions relief. The agreement came into effect on January 20.

Political directors from the P5+1 group of world powers — the United States, Britain, France, China and Russia plus Germany — are set to resume talks with Iranian nuclear negotiators on March 17 in Vienna.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who is coordinating P5+1 negotiators in the talks, will visit Tehran on March 9 and 10, according to Iranian media reports.

Confirming the reports, Araqchi said Ashton would be on an official mission representing the European Union.

“Mrs Ashton will travel to Iran as the high representative for the European Union and not as the coordinator for the P5+1,” he said.

“But naturally, the nuclear issue will be on the agenda,” Araqchi added.