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Iran to Host Nuclear Disarmament Talks

Iran says it will host a nuclear disarmament conference later this month, right after a U.S.-sponsored nuclear security summit. Nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili says Tehran wants to promote nuclear disarmament while encouraging peaceful nuclear energy production.

Iran appears to be waging a diplomatic battle to counter the U.S.-led push for new sanctions, at a time when momentum for those sanctions appears to be building.

Iran's top nuclear negotiator Saeed Jalili, who met with Chinese officials last week, says Beijing will attend its proposed nuclear energy conference on April 17th and 18th in Tehran.

Chinese President Hu Jintao is due to attend a U.S.-led nuclear security summit on April 12th in Washington.

Iran, which is under international pressure to abandon its nuclear program, insists its sole aim is to produce nuclear energy for peaceful civilian purposes. Western nations suspect Tehran is working to build nuclear weapons.

China, which has adamantly opposed new sanctions against Tehran, will take part in talks at the Washington summit to impose tougher sanctions on Iran. Beijing is one of five permanent U.N. Security Council members that hold veto power over any resolution.

Mehrdad Khonsari of the London-based Center for Arab and Iranian Studies says he thinks Tehran is trying to fight a growing consensus on strengthening sanctions against it. "I think the aim of the Islamic Republic is to try to offset the trend that is emerging and the fact that they sense that the Chinese are going to go along with some kind of a moderate resolution (against them), by trying to suggest that they are for disarmament and that any advance by them will not produce a nuclear arms race in the region," he said.

Janes' Islamic Affairs Analyst editor Alex Vatanka says Iran's proposed conference on nuclear disarmament could theoretically improve its position in the Middle East, if a significant number of Arab states respond to its initiative. "The latest statements from (Arab League Secretary General) Amr Moussa about keeping the channel of diplomacy open toward Iran: this sort of Iranian initiative, if it is well received, would suggest almost a willingness on the part of the Arabs to essentially go a third way. Sanctions, containment, this is what we are talking about. Accommodation could also be something that one could see as a result of this," he said.

Vatanka notes that Tehran regularly organizes conferences like this one on nuclear disarmament in order to emphasize its "relevance as a regional player." "But," he adds, "many countries often send low-level representatives," making their participation almost meaningless.