Iran Nuclear NewsIran visa issue defused, smoothing atom pact talks

Iran visa issue defused, smoothing atom pact talks

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ImageReuters: Talks on how to save the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) were kept alive on Tuesday after Iran received assurances on U.S. visas for taking part in follow-up meetings in New York in 2009 and 2010.

By Mark Heinrich

ImageGENEVA, May 6 (Reuters) – Talks on how to save the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) were kept alive on Tuesday after Iran received assurances on U.S. visas for taking part in follow-up meetings in New York in 2009 and 2010.

Iran has been fighting Western allegations of secret atom bomb designs said to menace the NPT and there was fear it might hold up proceedings on remedies for the treaty in protest at uncertainty over access to future sessions in the United States.

The issue was resolved after back-room consultations involving a developing nation bloc, including Iran, and U.S. diplomats. The deal was announced to delegates by Ambassador Volodymyr Yelchenko of Ukraine, chairman of the two-week Geneva meeting which ends on Friday.

Iranian Ambassador Ali Asghar Soltanieh told Reuters:

"It wasn't perfect. But we opted to go along with this guarantee on the record, which reflected legitimate concerns of non-aligned countries, not just us but Cuba and Venezuela and others."

U.S.-Iranian relations have been hostile since Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution. Cuba and Venezuela are also U.S. adversaries and back Tehran in its standoff with world powers demanding it suspend its controversial uranium enrichment programme.

Iran says it wants nuclear energy only for electricity.

Political feuding between nuclear "haves" and "have nots" has stymied efforts to overhaul the four-decade-old treaty.

Industrialised nations say the NPT has been undermined largely by the black-market spread of uranium enrichment technology, of use in generating electricity or building atom bombs, to developing nations in unstable regions.

Developing nations say the main problems are major nuclear powers' failure to heed NPT commitments to share nuclear know-how for peaceful development ends or to phase out their doomsday arsenals.

Three years after the last NPT Review Conference collapsed in procedural deadlock, the goal of the Geneva meeting is to explore possible convergence on treaty solutions to be finalised at next year's session and submitted for approval in 2010.

Ideas include a system of verifying nuclear arms' powers' proclaimed weapons cuts and a multilateral nuclear fuel bank for developing nations planning power stations to discourage them from starting proliferation-prone uranium enrichment themselves.

The 120-nation gathering on Tuesday also approved Zimbabwe to chair the 2009 NPT meeting despite Western concerns over its political fitness due to fears of chaos in the African nation arising from disputed election results.

"We decided not to oppose Zimbabwe now, figuring the (President Robert) Mugabe regime may be on its last legs anyway and by 2009 we'll get a more legitimate Zimbabwean chair than the Mugabe man we have now," said a senior Western diplomat.

It was developing nations' turn to conduct an NPT meeting, after Japan in 2007 and a European country this year. (Editing by Matthew Jones)

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