New York Times: Talks on Iran’s nuclear program moved a step closer Thursday as the European Union foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, agreed to one of two dates for discussions suggested by Tehran, a diplomat said, although Ms. Ashton proposed an alternative location.
The New York Times
By STEPHEN CASTLE
BRUSSELS — Talks on Iran’s nuclear program moved a step closer Thursday as the European Union foreign policy chief, Catherine Ashton, agreed to one of two dates for discussions suggested by Tehran, a diplomat said, although Ms. Ashton proposed an alternative location.
Ms. Ashton would lead the negotiations with Iran alongside officials from the United States, Russia, China, France, Germany and Britain.
On Thursday Ms. Ashton’s officials were drafting a letter to Iran’s senior negotiator, Saeed Jalili, agreeing to talks Dec. 5, but proposing that they take place not in Istanbul, as Iran had suggested, but in another country, probably Switzerland.
Ms. Ashton may also suggest that the discussions are conducted over three days rather than one, said a European diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity because an official announcement has yet to be made.
In recent weeks an exchange of letters between Ms. Ashton and the Iranians has brought the prospect of the resumption of talks significantly closer. In a letter dated Nov. 9, shown to The International Herald Tribune, Iran said Mr. Jalili would be ready to meet on Nov. 23 or Dec. 5 in Istanbul.
The diplomat confirmed Thursday that discussions between the Americans, Russians, Chinese and Europeans had taken place in the last 48 hours on how to react to Iran’s letter of this week.
“Catherine Ashton is expected to respond to Iran by the end of the week and is expected to agree to Iran’s proposal to meet on December 5, but not in Istanbul,” the diplomat said.
Instead the discussions would take place “somewhere in Europe – most likely Switzerland” with the possibility of a follow-up meeting for Istanbul.
If agreement can be reached the discussion will be the first high-level negotiations in more than a year.
If Iran accepts Switzerland as a venue, Geneva is a likely location.
The movement follows agreement on new United Nations and European Union sanctions aimed at putting pressure on Iran over its nuclear program. This reflects fears that Iran’s uranium-enrichment program is designed to create the option of a weapons program, while Iran insists its nuclear ambitions are limited to peaceful purposes.
European officials believe that sanctions are beginning to have an impact. They say they are pursuing a dual strategy designed to force the government in Tehran into a dialogue.
Iran’s most recent letter, like one that preceded it on October 29, referred to a stipulation in a previous communication from Mr. Jalili’s on July 6, laying down conditions for the talks. In that letter, the Iranian negotiator said that discussions should aim to engage and cooperate, that they should be committed to the rationale of dialogue, and that Ms. Ashton should state her “position on the nuclear weapons of the Zionist Regime.” That is a reference to Israel, which does not confirm or deny that it has nuclear weapons.
Last year the United States suggested that Iran ship uranium to another country for enrichment so as to try to ensure that Tehran could continue with its civil nuclear project, but did not have access to enough highly enriched uranium to make a bomb.