Reuters: Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said he held fruitful and frank discussions with his European Union counterpart on Monday that he hoped would lead to further talks on Iran’s disputed nuclear programme.
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, Feb 28 (Reuters) – Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi said he held fruitful and frank discussions with his European Union counterpart on Monday that he hoped would lead to further talks on Iran’s disputed nuclear programme.
Salehi told reporters in Geneva that Iran has always indicated a willingness to press on with talks with the “P5+1” — the five permanent U.N. Security Council members and Germany.
“I hope that the meeting today will facilitate the work for the upcoming meeting with 5+1,” he said, referring to the meeting he had held in Geneva with the EU’s foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.
There was no immediate response to a request for comment from Ashton’s aides on the closed-door afternoon meeting.
Talks last month in Istanbul on Iran’s nuclear programme between Iran and the United States, France, Germany, China, Russia and Britain ended without progress. Global powers have proposed a fuel swap seen as a step toward ending the standoff.
The U.N. Security Council has imposed four rounds of sanctions on Tehran for refusing to freeze its uranium enrichment programme, which Western powers suspect is aimed at producing a nuclear weapon. Iran says its programme is for peaceful energy needs.
Salehi, who will address a United Nations disarmament body on Tuesday, also said safety was more important than a quick start-up date for Iran’s $1 billion Bushehr reactor plant.
“Safety for us and reliability is more important than the start-up of a reactor at an earlier time,” Salehi said.
Experts familiar with the issue said on Monday that Iran appears to have told the U.N. atomic watchdog that a broken pump is forcing it to remove fuel from the Russian-built Bushehr plant, which has yet to start injecting power into Iran’s national grid.
“We have said it over and over, that while in the process of a start-up, we make routine tests and repeat our tests on many occasions because safety and reliability is our priority in the start-up and running of a reactor,” Salehi told reporters.
“Therefore we have come to an agreement with the Russians that if there is a case that needs a revisit of the equipment, then we better do that in order to make sure that safety and reliability are met,” he added.
Iran has said the Bushehr plant on its Gulf coast is to produce electricity is proof of the peaceful nature of its nuclear programme and that its uranium enrichment work is only meant to produce reactor fuel.
Salehi was also asked about two Americans detained in Iran on suspicion of espionage since their arrest near Iran’s border with Iraq in July 2009, along with a third American, Sarah Shourd, released in September on bail and sent home.
Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal pleaded not guilty in court earlier this month.
“Well, we already saw the freedom (liberation) of two Germans that were detained in Iran,” he said, referring to German journalists freed last week after four months of detention for meeting the son of a woman sentenced to death by stoning. “About the two Americans, we are working on it.”
“We hope that this entire process will be expedited and that our judiciary will very objectively look into the case. We hope that we will see this case come to an end in the future, in the not too far future, I hope,” he said.
The American trio say they were hiking in Iraq, and if they crossed the unmarked border into Iran, it was by mistake.
Earlier on Monday, in remarks to the U.N. Human Rights Council, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton singled out Iran for pursuing “policies of violence abroad and tyranny at home” and urged the region’s people to reject extremism and violence as avenues of political change. (Editing by Laura MacInnis)