Last updated: 23 January, 2013

World powers hope to resume Iran talks soon, says EU spokesman

World powers hope to resume talks with Iran “as soon as possible” and are “very flexible” on a venue, an EU spokesman said Wednesday after Iran proposed to resume discussions on its disputed nuclear drive in Cairo.

“We want to see Iran come back to the negotiating table as soon as possible so that we can make concrete progress towards dealing with the international community’s concerns about the Iranian nuclear programme,” said a spokesman for EU foreign policy Catherine Ashton.

Ashton represents the so-called 5+1 group of powers — the United States, China, Russia, Britain, France plus Germany — in talks with Iran on its nuclear programme.

Consultations between Tehran and the group were ongoing, said her spokesman Michael Mann, with the nations “still hoping to reach agreement with Iran on the modalities of the talks, including venue, with a view to resuming talks shortly.”

In Iran earlier, the ISNA news agency said Tehran had suggested Cairo as the venue for the next talks.

Iran has proposed that “the next meeting be held in Cairo, and it was welcomed by our Egyptian brothers,” it cited Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi as saying after a cabinet meeting.

An EU source said that “several venues have been proposed.”

“We do not exclude any, but Iran is proposing different venues all the time. The venue is not the issue, but Iran appears to be trying to delay the process by coming up with new conditions.”

Mann said that world powers had suggested dates and venues in December.

“Ever since then, we have been very surprised to see Iran come back to us again and again with new pre-conditions on the modalities of the talks, for example by changing the venue and delaying their responses,” he said.

At the most recent talks, in Moscow last June, Tehran rejected P5+1 calls for it to scale back its uranium enrichment activities, while also asking for relief from sanctions that began to bite in 2012.

The West accuses Tehran of working towards acquiring atomic weapons under the guise of its civilian nuclear programme, a charge Iran vehemently denies.

Iran refuses to halt uranium enrichment, the most controversial aspect of its nuclear drive, saying it is purely for civilian purposes.

Tehran has been slapped by multiple sets of UN sanctions for its refusal to stop enrichment. The US and the EU have also imposed additional sanctions aimed at convincing Tehran to come clean about its nuclear ambitions.