News / Middle East

EU Chief Accepts Iran's Meeting Date

EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, 08 Nov 2010
EU Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton, 08 Nov 2010

A top EU diplomat has accepted Iran's proposal for a December 5 meeting to discuss its nuclear program, but has rejected Iran's call for the talks to be held in Istanbul.

The office of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton says she accepted the date Friday.  However, the EU wants the talks to be in Austria or Switzerland, instead of in Turkey, which has significantly strengthened its ties to Iran in recent months.

Ashton has been negotiating with Tehran on behalf of the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and Germany, a group known as the P5+1.  Her office says Friday's agreement to the talks follows consultations with the group.

If the meeting takes place, it will be the first time in more than a year that Iran has met to discuss its nuclear program.

On Tuesday, Iranian officials delivered a proposal to Ashton that called for holding talks in Turkey on November 23 or December 5.

However, Iranian officials insisted later in the week that issues such as a proposed fuel swap and uranium enrichment may not be on the agenda.

Earlier, Ashton had proposed a November 15 meeting in Vienna, but Iranian officials never formally agreed to any details.

Turkey has been a formal ally of the U.S. since 1952, when it joined NATO, and was a reliable supporter of the U.S. and its allies throughout the Cold War era.  In recent years, Turkey also had become Israel's strongest partner in the Muslim world.  Those ties have unraveled steadily, however, as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan forged closer ties with Iran and Turkey's Arab neighbors, which had been strained for decades by legacy of Ottoman uimperialism.

The United States and other Western powers believe Iran is using its nuclear program to develop nuclear weapons. Tehran says its nuclear program is peaceful.

Separately, a spokesman for the U.N.'s nuclear watchdog agency (Greg Webb) says the agency protects the confidentiality of information gathered during inspections.  His comment may be an indirect reference to an Iranian accusation that the IAEA might pass Tehran's nuclear information to the United States.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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